Filed under: Politics
Ok, things will probably go a little quiet for a few days on here, while I pull together the Liberty Central portal, but as I said last night, the techie bit a relatively straightforward, the more pressing need is content, and content needs some structure if it going to make sense, which is that this piece is about.
My thinking is that we need to start out with four defined main sections to the site as follows:
News – with subsections for both specific campaign news and more general new alerts on new developments i.e. keeping up with what the politicos are up to in the Commons/Lords
Themes – with subsections for articles on the key issues of the campaign which, at the outset are likely, I think, to be:
Bill of Rights
Devolved Government & Local Democracy
Reforming the State
These are all working titles and additional sections can easily be added, but as a baseline a new constitutional settlement must tackle the overall framework of a new UK constitution, Bill of Rights, the separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary, reform of the electoral system, the role, function and composition of a second chamber, the parameters of devolved government and local democracy, the judicial and legal system (including policing) and, under reforming the state, the relationship between government, Parliament and the machinery of state, i.e. the Civil Service, Quangos, etc.
At this early stage people should openly put their ideas and thoughts on the table but recognise that this necessarily will mean that they will read things that they both agree with and disagree with – we need to identify the consensus points and where the difference of opinion lie and that can only be done is we are open in our views to begin with. We must remember that we will not agree with everything that’s said at this early stage but that’s important that people are able to voice their views openly and without rancour.
I don’t doubt that as we brainstorm ideas the right will see things which they see as ‘too socialist’ and the left see things they perceive to the ‘too right-wing’, and we will all see things we think are potentially unworkable – none of that matters for now, we need the ideas to start with and from there we can begin to debate and sift what we have to bring us eventually to a reasonably cohesive programme.
Over time we will come to positions on which there is consensus and which every feels can be taken forward; there will be points on which there is disagreement but on which a compromise position can be found and there will be points on which we can’t agree, in which case we have the option of putting those matters to one side or putting forward the different positions as options for future debate. There is, as I see it, nothing wrong with openly admitting that on a particular issue there is no consensus but there are options which reflect differing viewpoints and setting out those views fairly and honestly.
This is about liberty and about democracy, so on issues we cannot ignore but on which we cannot reach a common view, the right thing to do is outline the options and leave the final choice to the people of the country and to a democratic decision by the people.
This is, I think, important but needs to be done carefully. One of the factors that most strongly reinforces authoritarian tendencies in government is the idea, pitched relentlessly by the media, that differences of opinion and debate equal ‘splits’ and that any political grouping that fails to subscribe to the concept of ‘Ein Volk, Ein Reich’ is automatically unelectable. We need to move beyond that and take a pluralist position which says clearly that there are differing view and opinions on some issues, one that can and should be debated openly and maturely and the place to settle those differences is in the ballot box and not be the edict of political leaders.
The clearest example of the failings of uniformitarian view of politics, at the moment, lies in the near constant citing of the Salisbury convention by the current government whenever it meets opposition in the House of Lords and the idea that anything and everything in the Labour general election manifesto must be accepted without question on the pretext that it has the ‘mandate of the people’.
That may well have been true in 1945, when the Labour Party ran on a 5,000 word manifesto which set out a clear programme about which readers could have no doubt as to its intent, but as a Labour Party member, myself, I could not in all conscience say the same of our most recent manifesto, which ran to over 24,000 words. It is nonsense to suggest than everyone who voted Labour at the last election did so because they were in full and absolute agreement with every last element of the manifesto – most people would not have read it at all and would have voted on longstanding loyalties, on agreement with certain key policies – mainly on the economy and public services – or simply because the saw Labour as the least worst option of the three main parties. Not even the membership of the Labour Party subscribes in full to the content of that manifesto and yet the government is pushing through legislation in the full expectation that the Lords will accept every single measure as having a democratic mandate from the people of this country. This is so absurd that you couldn’t make it up, yet this is really what they expect.
The Salisbury convention is a constitutional convention of its time, one which rested squarely on the fact that in 1945, there was a clear, unassailable and unelected opposition majority in the House of Lords which could have delayed Labour’s entire programme, forcing them to use the Parliament Act to put through every single measure that it had clearly put the country and received a democratic mandate for – but this is not 1945 and conditions have changed to the extent that I would argue that the Salisbury convention is no longer valid – it certainly ceases to be valid, as does the Parliament Act itself, should we move to a completely or largely elected second chamber in future.
I’ve digressed but the point I’m trying to make is, I feel, important to what we’re trying to achieve. We must be pluralist in outlook, recognise our differences and be honest about them as we move forward – it’s not wrong to disagree so long as we agree that if and when a decision is to be made on something, one way or another, that decision should be made democratically by the British people and may the best argument win.
We need two things here – a news subsection to keep people in touch with proceedings in Parliament, what’s happening, when etc.
The other we need is to highlight and unpick the various pieces of authoritarian legislation that have been passed in recent years, are going through Parliament now and which may be introduced in future.
Much of the worst examples of authoritarian and overtly centralising legislation pass almost unnoticed in clauses buried in otherwise uncontroversial portmanteau Bills, in secondary legislation and in Bills that are so complex and seemingly boring that not even the media can be bothered to take note.
We need to try and document this clearly and show people what’s really happening, how, for example, the Inquiries Act 2005, which passed without a vote and with barely a murmur in the press, dismantles the independence of public enquiries, etc.
This is one area where we can build a relationship with the media, by putting together briefings which unpick the complexities of legislation, making it easier for them to report on what’s happening by saving them the trouble of trying to unpick it themselves.
We need a section on how to get involved, not just in this but in general – more people means more pairs of eyes, more views and more debate, all of which is good for liberty and democracy and bad for authoritarianism.
This should include promoting things like the Political Weblog project and just blogging in general – how-to guides on getting started on different platforms ranging from hosted services like Blogger to running your own independent blogs using B2Evolution,Comment by Sunny 02.20.06 @ 2:12 pm