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Think Tanks unite in call for fundamental reform of British politics

Published on 24/11/2009

This month seven leading think tanks made the case for systemic and radical reform to the British political system in a unique collaboration, led by the Institute for Public Policy Research (ippr).

The think tanks – Centre Forum, Demos, Fabian Society, ippr, Policy Exchange, Progress, and Reform – are united in calling for fundamental and far reaching changes to the way politics is conducted in the UK.

In a booklet called:  A Future for Politics – Ways to reform our Political System, the think tanks agree that the recent expenses scandal of the British Members of Parliament has done huge damage to the reputation of politics in the UK. However, the contributions amount to a strong defence of democratic politics, properly reformed, as the solution to the many issues that confront the UK.

The think tanks collectively argue that the scandal has presented the UK with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to carry out much needed reforms of our system and that MPs, peers and political leaders will fall even lower in public esteem if they drift back to ‘business as usual.” At present the gap between politicians and people is dangerously wide, and there needs to be a reform agenda that resonates with the public and restores trust and confidence.

A number of key areas for reform emerge in their proposals:

Transparency and accountability – Following the scandal, parliamentarians will be subject to much greater democratic scrutiny of their actions, but this should extend also to senior civil servants, the leaders of quangos and other public bodies paid for by the tax payer.

Much stronger parliament – the power of the legislature to hold the government to account should be significantly strengthened – through a much stronger committee system, the power to initiate legislation, greater powers of scrutiny and greater control over the parliamentary timetable.

Local Democracy – The UK political system is too over-centralised and there should be significant devolution of power away from Westminster to local, accountable bodies.

Increased Citizen’s power – There should be a greater role for the citizen in our democracy – through initiatives like referenda, citizen’s conventions, the power to recall MPs and petitions to initiate legislation. With proper safeguards, more citizen’s power should not threaten representative democracy.

Opening up the party system – The party system needs to be revitalised, so that a wider circle of people, who are more independent minded, can get into frontline politics.  Primaries may be one way to help this process.

ippr’s co-director Carey Oppenheim says:

“Although the think tanks which have contributed to this book have different views on many issues, for all of us, politics matter.  There is an impressive level of agreement among us as to the importance of real political reform and as to the shape it should take. Cleaning up expenses and clearing out errant MPs is not nearly enough to address the crisis that has engulfed politics in the UK.

“All agree that there is a profound sense of powerlessness among the public over our political system. Together we set out a radical agenda for sweeping reform and in so doing issue a challenge to the party leaders and parliament to face up to the need for substantial action.”

Although the think tanks agree on much, there are a number of areas where we take different stances, including specific proposals for electoral reform, changes to the House of Lords, compulsory voting and state funding of parties.

IPPR/ Expatica

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