Thursday, May 28, 2009


Lock the Bastards In: The 100-Day Lose the Deadweights Programme

Diet’s an old word for Parliament. Today, Nick Clegg’s combined both meanings in a practical, timetabled programme of reform that could start on Monday and slim down our bloated political system in 100 days of MPs’ work (shedding their Summer holidays). Lock the bastards in to open politics up – take back power!
Demand those rights, and help to detoxify British politics in just 100 days.

Nick Clegg’s Success – and His Dilemma

Nick Clegg’s had his best few weeks as Liberal Democrat Leader, partly despite and partly because of the firestorm engulfing British politics. But none of it’s been down to suddenly being a fresh face in the last month – it’s all come out of things he and the Liberal Democrats have been saying for a long time, and Nick’s making the most of his chances on them when they come. The Gurkhas? Nick was raising their case at Prime Minister’s Questions a year ago. It took that long to build a campaign and a cross-party consensus. On Parliamentary reform, whether it’s expenses or freedom of information applying to MPs like everyone else, it’s Liberal Democrats who’ve voted for it in Parliament again and again over the years – and Labour and Conservative MPs who stopped it, aided by the Speaker. When why Nick spoke up and forced him out, it was because enough was finally enough, and we couldn’t wait any longer to change things.

Those two sudden successes by the Leader of a relatively small party in Parliament – though the largest third party for eighty years – don’t just show that persistence pays off, though what a relief that it has, and don’t just show that Nick’s developing excellent political judgement and a killer instinct, though he is. Between them, Nick’s two big Parliamentary victories show the dilemma that a radical reformer faces.

Do you build a practical consensus between parties to get things done, as Nick did over the Gurkhas?

Or should you be a radical anti-establishment voice, as Nick was in breaking all convention to bring down a rotten Speaker?

Nick needs to be both, yet building an anti-establishment consensus that the establishment might deliver is a paradox. That’s what’s the extraordinary gamble in his front-page Guardian article today – punching for a target somewhere short of what we’d do on our own, but well ahead of what either Labour or the Tories would do on their own, all based on issues that have some degree of cross-party agreement already. As Millennium says, politics is the art of the possible.

But what could be more appropriate for a Liberal Democrat Leader than punching a hole in the establishment at the moment when it’s most fractured, but in a reasonable and measured way?

Take Back Power! Take Me Now!

You can’t doubt that the political system is splitting apart. Even without the politicians and the media, the British people are hitting it with sticks in rightful fury. And, hitting MPs until they squeak, suddenly other parties are making noises of reform, running to catch up with Nick at Prime Minister’s Questions last week. David Cameron – the Conservative Leader – has this week called for “a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power,” which he went on to detail rather less impressively as text-messaging and maybe, maybe not, fixing dates for elections rather than, er, fixing dates for elections. Bless him. But, still, if you want to see how hard a bandwagon’s rolling, look for the biggest bandwagon-jumper in the business (it was such a treat to hear Joanna Lumley on PM last week, when the government finally caved in and gave the Gurkhas the right they deserve, saying that she hadn’t done it without help – that the Lib Dems had been campaigning on it for ages, and then she was also grateful that the Tories had recently jumped on the bandwagon, too). And Labour… Well, Gordon Brown’s frowning silently deep in his bunker and has no ideas, no surprise there, but several of his aspiring successors loyal ministers have been launching their own leadership campaigns reform proposals.

Now, Liberal Democrats can hardly believe that the agenda we’ve been banging on about, unloved, for half a century is suddenly sexy (to think, just a year ago the first draft of Make It Happen was dropped for being too revolutionary and disturbing about the system, and went for a reassuring emphasis on the economy instead). We could understandably be hesitant when after decades of sneering at the bookish wallflower at the side of the dance the media and other parties have stepped forward, pulled off her glasses and declared, ‘Why, Miss Constitutional Reform! You’re beautiful!’ We could be shy and standoffish and quite rightly suspicious of the morals and motives of the new suitors. We know they don’t really love reform. Will they toss it all aside when they’ve had their wicked photo opportunity with it?

Nick Clegg’s answer is the bold but dangerous one. ‘I’m gagging for it! Take me now – but show me you mean it, and make an honest political system of me!’

And about time too.

You can see Nick being explicit about what he’s into on TV tonight, or by clicking to follow where he says that, if you get changed out of those old politics you can have a good time with him – I’m sorry, I’ll type that again – you can change politics for good.

If, on the other hand, that’s all a bit racy and you’d like to be wooed, fear not – that old-fashioned, genteel Vince Cable can take you for a turn first.

So What’s the Plan?

You can read what Nick Clegg has to say in today’s Guardian – his main article, the news piece about it, and why David Cameron’s text-messaging democracy won’t do – as well as the full, fully thought-out one hundred day programme on Liberal Democrat Voice. You can sign the petition on the Liberal Democrats’ new Take Power Back website, and harangue your MP – I’ll bet they’re keener to listen right now, when they’re much more frightened of your power than usual – to get serious about changing things. Here’s Nick:
“Real political change is about taking power from those who have hoarded it for themselves, and distributing it to others. So change will only be possible if the vested interests that have benefited from the way things are accept that they can no longer preside over an institutional stitch-up. For generations the Labour and Conservative parties have colluded to keep out competition. They are like a corporate duopoly, setting the rules of the game to maintain dominance. And just like in economics, it's ordinary people who suffer: taken for granted, and deprived of the ability to make different choices to those imposed upon them.

“So instead of long-term consideration of the possibility of tinkering, let us have 100 days of real action: swift, decisive and confident. It really is possible.”

And here are some of the main points: First on the list is sorting out MPs’ expenses – there’s an independent review by the standards watchdog working on it, and MPs can just vote to accept the lot. The Liberal Democrats may well want to add even stricter rules later; but every MP can vote to set the independent review as a baseline, can’t they? And to go along with that, one simple, massive change: if your MP’s done wrong, you should be able to force them into a by-election. After all this corruption, if you want to take back power, taking back an MP if they’re a crook and getting a better one is the best place to start, giving the people power to sack them rather than letting the establishment be their own judge and jury. And as for the people who aren’t elected at all, the House of Commons has already debated and voted on electing the House of ‘Lords’ – all it needs is the political will to make it happen.
Most parties have already agreed to ban donations of over £50,000 – and that could be adopted within weeks. The Liberal Democrats will campaign at the next election for a much lower limit of £25,000, as we’ve long called for, but even the compromise number the establishment’s already given lip service to is a massive improvement on the millions that tumble in today (did you know that, by an uncanny coincidence, every single person who’s given the Labour Party a million pounds or more has been given a knighthood or peerage?).
No messing. As Liberal Democrats have voted for again and again, freedom of information must apply to MPs and ministers and government decisions as well as everyone ‘less important’ – it won’t take long to pass something stronger than Labour’s loophole-riddled ‘Freedom from information’ laws. Just have the same laws for everyone. Simple.
The Prime Minister shouldn’t have the power to look at the opinion polls and fix the election date for when they’re likely to do best, or hang on by their fingernails to avoid defeat ’til the last minute like the Tories’ John Major and Labour’s Gordon Brown. Like local councils, like European elections, like even the American President, everyone should know that the elections come round every four years, so the voters make the choice, not the government stacking the dice. Similarly early on in the process, there’ll be a new Speaker, who can knock heads together to agree new Parliamentary powers for MPs to check government spending and what ministers are up to. And that’s before a massive Liberal Democrat programme of measures like taking the Royal Prerogative powers from ministers and passing a Freedom Bill to roll back many of the government’s powers over the rest of us – but that’ll take a Lib Dem government. With both of the other authoritarian, conservative parties gagging to boss people about, it lacks cross-party consensus!
Nick makes it clear that the Liberal Democrats want the single transferable vote system in which voters elect the person, not the party, but he’s willing to compromise on the cobbled-together, more top-down vaguely proportional system that most Labour reformers want. Labour, after all, promised a referendum on electoral reform in their 1997 manifesto, but didn’t do it. And in 2001. And in 2005. Still, better late than never, you might think. He’s picked something that’s the choice of another party, and far less in our interests that some, and willingness to concentrate on what Parliament might actually deliver is a good thing… For most of this eminently practical, sensible programme, at least. Actually, on this one I think Nick’s got the balance between ‘reaching a consensus’ and ‘anti-establishment’ wrong and has made one vital error of judgement – but I’ll come back to that in a later post.

The most important thing is, this could be done. It’s all thought out – it just might happen. All it takes is for MPs to give up their Summer holidays and get to work; once we’ve got a less rotten system, we can have a General Election that you can have more confidence in. The Liberal Democrats aren’t just putting forward all our favourite things. Instead, Nick’s proposals are concrete and simple and have a record of cross-party support and working-out.

So if they don’t happen – you know which parties to be cross with.

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I'd lock up any bastards involved in war crimess genocide & worse up for a lot longer than 100 days but I assume you disagree.
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