A Labour shadow cabinet minister was quoted on the BBC as saying that politics is in a state of flux. That is probably true both here in Peterborough and across the UK.
Two political earthquakes hit Scotland in the past year: firstly Scottish people almost but not quite voting for independence and then the SNP sweeping the board in this year’s General Election. New leaders were chosen for the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. UKIP’s leader promised he would resign, did resign but then changed his mind three days later. In Peterborough, local Lib Dem party membership has more than doubled since May. Our Tory council leader lost his seat at this year’s City Council elections. And big changes are in prospect next year as there is an all out election for the City Council on significantly changed ward boundaries.
Two messages are coming over loud and clear, particularly from those who see themselves on the progressive left of politics: the need for a more co-operative consensual style of working and an overwhelming need for major reform of our political institutions and systems. Lib Dems have been arguing for less confrontation and yah boo politics for years and there are now encouraging signs from Labour’s new leader that he has come to a similar view.
Two weeks ago, the Trades Union Congress set up an inquiry to look at ways of reforming the voting system used at General Elections. A Tory Government elected on the votes of only a quarter of the electorate has been a wake up call for them. During the 20th Century, the Conservative Party was in power (alone or in coalition) for 75 out of 100 years but rarely came anywhere near getting majority support from the voters. It’s surely time for everyone on the left of politics to wake up to what Liberal Democrats have known for years: that our current electoral system and a divided opposition produce just one thing: long periods of right wing Tory government.
We are told we live in democracy, yet half of our Parliament is entirely unelected, undemocratic and unaccountable. I am referring of course to the House of Lords. Peers are appointed by the Prime Minister and (surprise, surprise) most of the ones he appoints are from his own party. Recently 37 new Tory peers were appointed by David Cameron, swelling the total number of members of the House of Lords to nearly 1000. In the last Parliament, Lib Dems in Government tried to replace the House of Lords with a democratically elected chamber but were thwarted by both Labour and Tory MPs and peers.
Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP, and others have advocated that left of centre progressive parties in the UK need to work more closely together on some of these big constitutional issues…and also perhaps on some of the big environmental questions such as climate change.
Here in Peterborough, we see similar moves to reform the way we are governed. Ideally we should change to a more democratic proportional voting system, but central government won’t allow us to go that far. What they will allow and what we are doing is looking at replacing the cabinet system with a model which involves more open and accountable decision making. Lib Dems prefer a committee system (like that operating on Cambs County Council) but it looks like we might have to accept some form of compromise or so called “hybrid” model.
Locally people tell me they want to see politicians at the Town Hall working together more to deliver better services, rather than engaging in constant bickering and personality politics. There are signs on such big issues as the Council budget that this is happening. There are big decisions to be made and significant differences of opinion on many of them but let’s hope that in an era of “new politics” debate and decisions can happen in a more considered and consensual way.