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Political Reform Must Come and We Must be Ready

Although a Citizens’ Assembly will probably be needed we need a coherent proposal to put to it

If the ask most people what their priorites are, political reform would come way down the list after putting food on the table, affording rents, access to healthcare, ‘Getting Brexit Done’, and worrying about Climate Change..
The Brexit issue has deeply divided people; when and if we leave the EU our future relationship with Europe will not have been resolved.
Our broken politics however mean that at best we are not addressing the issues properly; in some ways we are going backwards. We have to hope that sooner or later as things get worse (e.g. as a result of hundreds of thousands of ‘excess deaths’ resulting from a botched Brexit and Austerity) people will realise that things must change.

Unlock Democracy’s policy is to call for a Citizens’ Assembly, presumably set up by government, to agree on constitutional change, but let’s think for a moment on what that entails. Assembly members would be randomly selected. Most would not be very knowledgeable about the issues, let alone possible remedies. Most would be English, and not brought up to question the status quo. They would need to hear from ‘experts’; how would these experts by selected? It seems to me that many experts would be happier explaining the status quo than suggesting radical change. We in the reform movement must be ready with well worked out positive proposals to challenge the any sayers.

We will probably not get reform without a Citizens’ Assembly but it can only be one stage in the process.

We are not starting from the blank sheet of paper. There are several credible proposals:

a. DRAFT CONSTITUTION FOR THE UNITED KINGDOM OF ENGLAND AND WALES,
Prepared by Dr W. E. Bulmer of the (Scottish) Constitutional Commission in Sept this year I think. This could easily be revise to include Scotland and Northern Ireland if they remain in the union.

b. There is a rather lengthy draft produced in 1991 by the Institute for Public Policy Research

both the above assume the continuation of the monarchy

c. LSE’s ‘People’s Constitution’ published in 2015 as a result of a two year consultation involving thousands of people https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/constitutionuk/theconstitution/ This proposed an elected head of state

Doubtless there are others.

For what it is worth, it appears to me that the President of the Irish Republic plays a very similar role to that of our monarch. Why attack an apparently popular institution when all we need to do is change the rules?

We reformers need to study and compare the above options and decide the line to take.

That Supreme Court Decision

Letter to Dorset Echo

Sir Oliver Letwin (‘Effect on Constitution is Profound’, Sat 28th Sept) was right to welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to nullify the recent prorogation, and to note that in future governments that make unreasonable use of prerogative powers (i.e. those exercised in the name of the Queen even where she is not consulted), may be subject to legal challenge. However I do not feel that appeal to the courts is always the right way of addressing such issues.

Taking the matter of prorogations, although Boris Johnson may not carry out his threat to seek another unreasonable prorogation, other Prime Ministers might. It seems obvious to me that no prorogation that does not have the consent of Parliament is justified. A very simple piece of legislation could be enacted that would require a Prime Minister, before asking the Queen for a prorogation, to check that Parliament is ok with it. As things stand she has (by convention) to accept the Prime Minister’s advice even if she is unhappy with doing so.

The one important decision the Queen has to make without the advice of the Prime Minister is to choose his or her successor. She needs to choose the person most likely to command a majority in the House of Commons. Up to now the choice has been obvious. Even in 2010 when there was a hung Parliament she had only to wait to see which way the Lib Dems would jump.

The situation presented by the resignation of Mrs May is however I think unique. Mrs May’s government was a minority one propped up by the DUP, and by the time she resigned even DUP support was barely enough. Furthermore there are deep divisions in both major parties. The choice of Boris Johnson seems to have been dictated by the fact that he was elected by the Conservative Party as its leader from a field of mainly Eurosceptic candidates. The vast majority of the people had no say. That said, the Queen would have had difficulty in making another choice. In 2011 the cabinet manual was published. This does not seek to establish new rules, but rather tries to interpret the often unwitten rules we have. It does not have the authority of Parliament. In regard to the choice of Prime Minister it sets out a number of rules, but in my opinion they do not cover the precise set of circumstances the Queen faced.

That raises the question, “Is not the House of Commons itself best placed to judge who could command their support?” This is the situation in the Irish republic where the constitution says, “The President shall, on the nomination of Dáil Éireann, appoint the Taoiseach, that is, the head of the Government or Prime Minister.” [The President has no discretion in this matter]. were that rule applied here, MPs might have chosen Boris Johnson anyway, or they might have wanted to choose someone less divisive – Ken Clarke for example.

The Queen could in theory, I suppose, have asked the speaker to ascertain the view of the House, but that could rightly or wrongly have been interpreted as expressing her view of the leadership candidates. I would suggest that legislation is the appropriate solution.

note that the version sent to the Dorset Echo had to be shortened somewhat. The above is the unabridged version.

A Constitution for the 21st Century

We need a codified and entrenched constitution – a set of rules we can all understand and is fit for purpose. Recent events have made this urgent.

Many call for a constitutional convention but none in the Westminster bubble seem keen to grant us one. We the people must take matters into our own hands.

You can find my (partial) draft constitution at https://moneyversusdemocracy.files.wordpress.com/2019/09/constitution2019-d0.doc

Are the Security Services out oif Control?

https://www.dailymaverick%5Bdot%5Dco%5Bdot%5Dza/article/2019-09-11-how-the-uk-security-services-neutralised-the-countrys-leading-liberal-newspaper/

Prorogation – Petition to the Queen

Some of those alarmed at the prorogation may with to use the following wording

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Your Majesty

We who have been your loyal subjects, humbly submit this petition in accordance with our right under the Bill of Rights.

We are dismayed that you felt that it was your constitutional duty to follow the advice of the Prime Minister, who is a proven liar, to prorogue Parliament for a longer time than was necessary, and at a time of crisis when your Parliament should be sitting. We do not question your judgement that that is now the constitutional position, but we believe that in following the Prime Ministers’ advice you have had to ignore the spirit of the Bill of Rights.

We now believe that it is almost certain that the UK will leave the EU on 31st Oct without a deal. We do not believe that the current constitutional order can survive the chaos that will ensue. Whilst there is a faint chance that the new order will be more democratic, we believe that it is far more likely that a totalitarian form of government or populist dictatorship will emerge. Whether such a regime is nominally of the Right or the Left is of secondary import.

In 1979 Lord Hailsham wrote,

“…But [the Queen’s] most important working function as part of the machinery of government never attracts attention precisely because it is working exactly as it was designed to do. So long as the Queen is there, the regime which we asked to obey as the government, has her guarantee that its authority is legitimate. If a dictator or a military junta wished to usurp power it would first have to get rid of the Queen who would be bound to risk her own life to protect the constitution…”

We recognise that that view might be outmoded, but if so it seems to us that your role is simply a piece of theatre to distract your subjects from the very real problems. We urge you to consider just what you feel your responsibilities would be in this event.

Message from the EU to the Peoples and the Government of the UK

The following is a draft circulating in Brussels, of a message to be sent by the Council of the European Union (the 27) to the UK in the event of a no deal Brexit on October 31st.

“To the Peoples and the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

We regret that the UK has left the EU without a deal. It will be bad for us but worse for you. We deeply regret the refusal by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to negotiate with us.

As to the 2016 EU referendum, whereas we recognise the grievances of Leave voters we find it hard not to resent the EU being falsely blamed for their condition. We regret that Brexiteers have not been held to account for their fabrications; but believe that English voters have to live with the consequences of their credulity.

We believe that the underlying reason for this unfortunate situation is the uncontrolled nature of the British constitution leading to a destructive adversarial approach to British politics.

If the UK (or those parts of it that remain) were to apply to rejoin the EU, we do not feel that it would meet our standards of democracy and good governance. The UK needs to reform first. We no longer recognise Her Majesty’s Government or the Westminster Parliament as the legitimate government of the peoples of the UK. Although this will make little practical difference as there is no effective communication between us, as a symbolic gesture we have today withdrawn our ambassador from the Court of St James. It also signifies that we have other more important issues to which we need to give attention.

We have no wish to punish the British; English voters at least are doing that for themselves. However it is inevitable that in the absence of any trade agreements, the terms of trade will be rather more in favour of the EU and less in favour of Britain than formerly.

We would want to treat the other nations of the UK (all of which voted to Remain) somewhat differently to England.

If Scotland achieves independence with the consent of the Westminster Government then we would welcome it as a continuing member of the EU. If it makes a unilateral declaration we would have to consider what sort of support we could afford to give. The same applies to Wales, but this is likely to follow on later.

As regards Northern Ireland, we see the best option is Irish unification.”

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Although the above draft reflects the EU point of view, Sir Ivan Rogers’ comments in June 2019 suggest that the EU’s response will be less proactive. We will simply be left to stew in our own juice.

Either way No Deal Brexit will tend to drive us into the hands of the USA.

The Good Systems Agreement – the need for an 11th principle

This note is intended for Make Votes Matter. I write it on the assumption, which I believe MVM shares, that the best chance of securing reform is for a Labour government to be elected. The line being taken over choice of system is that it should be determined by a deliberative assembly based on the Good Systems Agreement. However I would make two points on this:

Firstly although I agreed with the Good Systems Agreement at the time, I have became increasingly aware of the need for an 11th principle, namely:

“ A good system will encourage the emergence of political leaders that can put the good of the country and its people ahead of narrow party loyalty, personal ambition and self conceit. Such a leader needs to show the humility to learn from evidence and the opinion of others. While he or she should be true to his of her principles, he or she should be flexible as to the means of pursuing them.”

Whereas no voting system can guarantee the emergence of the right kind of leader, I believe that a system with a high degree of voter choice would help. MPs would be more loyal to constituents and less to the party machine. The leader would not so easily get away with ideological absurdities. Although voter choice is captured as principle 6, the wording does not in my opinion give it the importance it deserves.

My second point is that although a deliberative assembly seems the fairest way of determining the best system, I fear that reform will never occur that way. A Labour government would have very little time to reverse the disastrous record of the Conservative government and the coalition that preceded it. Mainstream media including the BBC would blame everything on Labour. Unless a government comes into power wholly committed to reform it won’t happen. I think if you look at what has happened in Canada, both at the federal level and in British Columbia and Ontario you will see what I mean. There is an argument that says that only when voting reform has been achieved will deliberative assemblies actually achieve anything. Until then big money and project fear will prevail.