The weaknesses of the UK’s two-party political system have been known and written about for years but the pressures of the Brexit Crisis have laid the fault-lines bare for all to see. It is now more clear than ever that the UK needs to initiate a process of parliamentary and constitutional reform if it is to achieve the cohesion necessary to deal with the complex changes that lay ahead.
That, of course, is easy to say but difficult to do bearing in mind the current “toxic and irrational politics that Brexit has spawned” described recently by Professor Chris Grey, (chrisgreybrexitblog.blogspot.com 8 March 2019).
The members of the recently formed Independent Group of MPs have correctly identified that the two old, major political parties are failing. The Group members are calling for fundamental change in the way that the UK does its politics. As yet, they have not proposed that a suitable body, (assembly, convention or commission) should be set up to work on the complexities of reform but they may be prevailed upon to do so.
Such a body would have to include very experienced men and women from a variety of walks of life, including perhaps; ex prime ministers, constitutional lawyers, political scientists, philosophers, senior members of professional bodies, captains of industry and heads of business. Their principle objective would be to devise a model of democracy that would be truly representative, deliberative and consensual. As Lord Hailsham envisaged over forty years ago their work, in close cooperation with Parliament, might last for many years.
Given the scale of failure and the lack of trust in the UK’s governmental institutions that the Brexit Crisis has brought to a head, a process of reform should start with an inquiry into exactly what has gone wrong, not to lay blame since it has to be acknowledged that there is collective responsibility for the failings, but to to find reconciliation and accurately identify those areas in which improvements might be made in parliamentary and constitutional arrangements. The process might lead to a new settlement in the UK and a written constitution.
Whilst experts, highly qualified and experienced people will inevitably have to consider the complexities of change over a lengthy period of time, it is possible right now for ordinary citizens like me to discern that all is not well in the UK and for us to identify aspects of current arrangements that might be considered for change. They include:
- The nature and role of political parties. (Primarily power-seeking and driven by old ideologies.)
- The electoral system. (Currently unrepresentative.)
- Political party campaigning. (Vulnerable to corrupt practise.)
- Political party funding. (Causes undue influence by major donors.)
- Political party manifestos.
- Selection of prospective parliamentary candidates.
- Support for MPs becoming Legislators.
- Electronic voting in Parliament.
- Independence of legislators.
- Abolition of the ‘Whipping System’ in Parliament.
- Reduction in numbers of parliamentarians.
- Improved support infrastructure for MPs in their constituencies.
- Appraisal of parliamentarians by citizens panels.
- Involvement of Select Committees in development of legislation.
- The Executive- Parliament relationship.
- Modification of the Prime Minister’s Questions session.
- Government control of parliamentary business schedules.
- Executive/Royal Prerogative powers.
- Free votes for Legislators in all debates.
- The role of the devolved assemblies in the UK.
- The re-establishment of an elite and trusted Civil Service.
- A possible written constitution.
- The use of referendums.
At a time when it is extremely difficult for ordinary citizens of the UK like me to understand and follow what is going on in British politics and as the current situation is bewildering, if not deeply depressing, it is somewhat therapeutic to write down some personal thoughts that might perhaps be shared with others. So, over the coming days and weeks, from my limited personal perspective, I will try to expand a little on the complex subjects listed above.