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Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Democratic reform and renewal - Parliament

Back to the key heads for the reform of our damaged democracy. Firstly, Parliament. If the Brexit process has shown nothing else, it has exposed the confusion that exists in exactly where responsibility lies in our constitutional system for international treaties. May's government had wanted to proceed on the basis that all such business was the prerogative of the executive - but was challenged both in court and by Parliament itself. Even now as we approach the 'Meaningful Vote' - Parliament's approval of the most important post-war treaty in our lifetimes - the HOC seeks to explain the constitutional anomaly
"Although foreign affairs and treaty-making is normally the preserve of the Government under the Royal Prerogative, it holds that position by virtue of commanding the confidence of the House of Commons."
The Power Inquiry made the following recommendations -

Recommendation 1: A Concordat should be drawn up between Executive and Parliament indicating where key powers lie and providing significant powers of scrutiny and initiation for Parliament.

Not a written constitution, note, nor a radical overhaul of Parliament.

Recommendation 2: Select Committees should be given independence and enhanced powers including the power to scrutinise and veto key government appointments and to subpoena witnesses to appear and testify before them. This should include proper resourcing so that Committees can fulfil their remit effectively. The specialist committees in the Upper House should have the power to co-opt people from outside the legislature who have singular expertise, such as specialist scientists, when considering complex areas of legislation or policy.

Again, these recommendations were written when Brexit was not on the horizon; last year we saw select committees with a Remain chair and and and overwhelming Remain bias seeking to use their powers to sabotage Brexit. If select committees are to have greater powers - and it's not a bad idea - then impartiality becomes absolutely critical. Select committees embody the powers of the British people in a small group of their representatives and already have extraordinary reach - it is absolutely essential that select committee chairmanships and memberships are not abused for Party or Personal interests.

Recommendation 3: Limits should be placed on the power of the whips.

This is inextricably entwined with the role of political parties. The role of whip is not a constitutional office, but a party appointment. If all MPs were independents, there would be no whips.

Recommendation 4: Parliament should have greater powers to initiate legislation, to launch public inquiries and to act on public petitions.

Government sets the business of the House, but there is always room for Private Members' Bills. Likewise, the parliament petitions website came into effect two years after 'Power', in 2006. So far the most popular petition debated was in opposition to the Trump visit, garnering over 1.7m signatures. Again, 'Power' was written at a time when Blair's War was an unhealed wound - the Chilcot Inquiry did not start until 2009. I'm neutral on  recommendation 4 and can be swayed either way.

Recommendation 5: 70 per cent of the members of the House of Lords should be elected by a ‘responsive electoral system’ – and not on a closed party list system – for three parliamentary terms. To ensure that this part of the legislature is not comprised of career politicians with no experience outside politics, candidates should be at least 40 years of age.

Brexit again has brought Lords reform to the fore. At the time of 'Power' the upper house was perceived as a Tory stronghold, liable to sabotage the actions of a Labour government. It's now seen as a stronghold of the patrician establishment, pro-remain and determined to frustrate the will of the British people. I agree wholly to the desperate need now to reform the upper house - though I'm not committed to any one solution. I do know, however, that the hereditaries are an undervalued resource - and would like to see any reformed house retain around 100 of their number, selected amongst the hereditary peerage by themselves.  


Stephen J said...

The breakdown is not between the executive and the parliament Raedwald, it is between the executive and parliament working in cahoots against the electorate.

These non-representative representatives pursue every single avenue that is within their ever increasing ambit to wrest further and further control from the people.

Where once there was a king who ruled by sheer force of personality and masculine bravado, there are now a bunch of lawyers hiding behind a bunch of books, whilst simultaneously running every single area of expertise as their fiefdom, be it science, education, medicine, defence, infrastructure or foreign relations. The law has been nationalised.

These arseholes have taken our guns, our access to education, our access to media, and any other area, and created closed shops everywhere.

The problem with this of course is that nothing new can ever happen or be discovered,,,

The population keeps expanding, but everything else is limited by a great big wall, and something is going to blow... If not this year then a year or so ahead. We can see the groundwork being prepared in France and Italy, In Catalunya, in the former communist countries that recognise tyranny when they see it...

And still they try to force more and more petrol into that one gallon can...

Happy new year...

Sadiq Khan's dad was a bus driver from Streatham don't you know.

DeeDee99 said...

To be honest Raedwald, these 5 recommendations look to me like tinkering with a system which is fundamentally broken and needs radical reform.

As a former UKIP supporter (under Farage's leadership) I will never forget that almost 4 million votes for that Party gained just one MP. Whilst 1.4 million Scottish SNP voters got 56 MPs in the Westminster Parliament. Either the current Party system must be radically changed, or we must have an electoral system which more properly reflects the number of votes cast for each Party.

And I bitterly resent that the Scots, Welsh and NI (if restored) have their own Parliaments, whilst the English do not. Instead, we're having the EU's plan for regionalism of England forced on us in the guise of City-Region Mayors.

I don't want to see any "Lord" appointed for 15 years. It's too long: it gives far too much time for the arrogance of power to set in, as is currently the case with the overly politicised Upper Chamber. And we will still have a situation where a Party like the LibDems, (Establishment-approved but tiny support in the country) has far too much power in the Upper Chamber.

I have no faith whatsoever that Parliament will reform itself. This country is not a democracy.

Tom Oliva said...

Select Committees given more power? .... anybody who's looked at who's on those committees and what their relevant experience and skills are will laugh at that - mostly utter ass-hats

Span Ows said...

Agree with every single word of the three comments above. Indeed just to iterate Tom's point: Vaz and Benn to name but two. The New labour stay-behind-army which comprises most charities, quangos and much of the higher echelons of civil servants do not need the added forces of numerous select committees (although that is patently the case)

John in Cheshire said...

I have two thoughts:
1. The extracts suggest to me that the report was produced by the swamp, for the benefit of the swamp. There is nothing in the extracts that even recognises that these people are servants and as such should be guided and constrained by their paymasters, we, the people.
2. About 10 years ago a group of bloggers, including Richard North, produced the Harrogate Agenda. I have mentioned it from time to time in the intervening period but nothing has come of it. The Harrogate Agenda is a good basis for resetting the power dynamics in the governance of our country, away from the psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists who gravitate to politics and towards those who pay for and suffer from their doings.

Stephen J said...

@john cheshire

Agree with point 1.

As to point 2, from memory it was ever so slightly different to that... North revealed to a group of his acolytes (of which, at the time, I was one) his "agenda" based on the work of the Chartists. It was presented as a complete manifesto, to which North offered no room for any discussion, only full agreement was possible.

Then a number of those acolytes (amongst which I no longer numbered, having been banned from his blog) went to Harrogate and signed his document by way of total agreement.

That's the way of things...

As Turner's Margate mistress was apt to say.

Oddly, the Harrogate agenda, disappeared never to be heard of again... like "referism", it was a form of direct democracy, "directed" by Dr. North, and aimed squarely at his plebeian acolytes, until they realised that they were taking part in his very own version of Dad's Army, starring himself as "Napoleon".

Raedwald said...

Good comments all - please don't hang back!

I'm not proposing the 'Power' proposals as a package, nor do I back or endorse the details. However, the Inquiry covered all the heads - and it's very useful to know the reaction to the report now, 14 years on.

It's also useful to see just how much has remained unchanged since it was written. A lot, so far.

There are 30 recommendations in all - so still 25 to come.

Jack the dog said...

Right writes - that is the way of Richard North.

Either you agree with every comma and full stop or else you are an utter dimwit good only to be insulted loftily and repeatedly.

Shame because he has done an incredible amount of good work, esp regarding brexit but becuase he's such an insufferable arse, it is wasted.

I don't agree that the system is irretrievably broken. Only that we have as a population become rather complacent.

THere was a grerat cartoon late last year showing the two offices where brexit was happening - Barnier tranquilly playing patience, while in the UK office there wqas a real old barroom brawl. I think the point of it was to make us look stupid compared to the olympians of Brussels.

But in fact it pointed up a different truth. Brexit is about sovereignty and that is the most fundamental political question.

If it is not a bit of a barney there is something wrong. We should all distrust consensus in politics.

We are at an epochal turning point. But the system that our forefathers forced onto the British government is actually basically well made despite all the tinkering over the years (esp. Blair)

Now it looks chaotic and hopeless but in 10 years from now there will be a new normal and most likely we brexiteers will have won, and in a hundred years it will be a major item in the history books.

A little more tinkering around the edges is required though and I think Radders' contributions are interesting.

Anonymous said...

Politics used to be about 'the economy stupid' as I think was coined in the 90s. Now it pervades every aspect of our lives.
Power should be devolved to the lowest common denominator i.e. the individual with strict limits on central power.

jack ketch said...

1. Reform the obscenity that is the 'Parliament Act(s)' to limit it to preventing the Lords from blocking a budget-so we don't have American style budget cliffhangers with Federal employees unpaid etc

2. Return sovereignty to the Sovereign (or scrap the bally lot, one or t'other) by allowing her and her alone to grant peerages/knighthoods etc-with two provisos: no automatic peerage for Prime Ministers and MPs and absolutely no 'sporting heroes' or TV personalities who have done nothing worthy of the title outside their chosen field of employment. Demand the sovereign, or her representative (ideally the Prince Of Wales), make full and vigorous use of their right to attend cabinet...every one.

3.Reform the Lords BACK to what it was ,with a full compliment of Hereditaries.

4. The public's desire for Referenda on Constitutional matters needs to be firmly anchored into British law and Constitution with all safeguards (for example the European ideas about having a referendum to have a referendum; Strictly defined minimum 'turn outs' and 'constitutional majorities'.

John Brown said...

I have no problem with the appointing of HoL members except for the automatic appointment of CofE bishops. To have a second elected chamber could cause severe problems.

There is even no need for an immediate cull as there may be many Lords who can contribute usefully to debates and the appointment of many people seen as totally unsuitable as a Lord does help to “grease the wheels” of state and is often used to defuse conflict.

But voting on legislation should be restricted to a select group (of perhaps around 300) of HoL members who are selected by each political party to represent them and whose numbers are in direct proportion to the total number of votes each party received at the last GE.

These party selected voting members should include members of parties who failed to get an MP in the FPTP HoC.

This way the 4m people who voted UKIP could have felt they had some representation in our political system and would have had more voting members of the HoL than the Lib Dems or the Greens of even the SNP

These HoL representatives would be re-selected at each GE according to each party’s constitution.

IcyPurplepants said...

I have to say I agree with Mr Ketch, or at least quite a lot of what he's written above.

Sadly I think that Blair's destruction of the House Of Lords, or at least the hereditaries aspect of it, is unreversable. As with so many of our traditions; centuries to create, seconds to destroy.

I'd we are going to elect people to the Lords, then I don't think anyone standing should have been a member of any political party, or have ever donated *any* money to them.

As much as I generally hate quotas, I think there should be some. Starting with an age limit (no-one under 40 or 50?) I guess there are many groups which could be included in these quotas... ethnic minorities, a small number of senior people covering the religious make-up of the country, but also some *real* people; people who've lived and earned in the real world, and stay at home mums/dads etc. There should definitely be a decent number of folks who have served in the military preferably seeing actual combat.

But I don't think any changes can be made before the swamp of the Lower House is drained. They all see the HoL (expenses) as their retirement fund and won't give that cosy future up easily.

Domo said...

Although there is nothing wrong with any of the proposals, except curtailing the whips, who the point admits, have no power to curtail, they are solutions looking for problems, not solutions to a specific problem.

Anon 2 said...

@ right-writes (& John Cheshire)
In all fairness, and just for the record - Richard North mentioned the Harrogate Agenda yesterday - at the end of his Jan. 1 blogpost:

"There we have it. In two weeks, our MPs will be making a decision about a deal that many of us don't want, where the consequences of rejection are as undesirable as the deal itself, and which may cause long-lasting injury. That it is MPs who will be making that decision is a historical accident.

And if accidents happen, they should not be repeated. This should be the last time we are ever put in such a position. And we know where to look for our answers: The Harrogate Agenda is ready-made for this occasion." (

The Agenda itself is available from the sidebar of that website, which takes
one to:

Stephen J said...

I didn't read his latest post Raedwald, however when I was trying to remember his invented word "referism", I did have a quick look at his blog, to see if I could find it, and I noticed the little "Harrogate Agenda"badge on the right hand side.

I will maybe have a read later on, it is usually a very tiresome read, so I will wait until I have woken up. However from your extract, it looks like he has got what we doctors call "crashingoveracliffedgeitis". Of course, many of us have had this before, this was when we joined the "common market" in 1973.

What is needed now is the cure, unfortunately the cure for necrosis, is still, due to NHS cuts... amputation.