Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Interview with Helena Kennedy QC about the new campaign launch - POWER2010

A new campaign has been launched today called POWER2010. Its aim to allow ordinary members of the general public to ensure that the next Parliament makes a commitment to fix Britain’s broken political system.

It is formed from the 2006 Power Inquiry and will use mass campaign tactics and a unique people’s ‘vote’ to identify the five changes to the UK political system the public most want to see. The priorities are created, prioritised and decided by the general public rather than interest groups. Parliamentary candidates of all parties will then be invited to support the reform proposals to be implemented after the general election.

Right, that's enough already with the spiel. On the surface, it sounds like a good campaign to me but here at Mark Reckons as regular visitors will know, we like to delve a little deeper. I asked Helena Kennedy QC, one of the founders of the campaign a few questions in advance of today's launch.

My questions are in bold and her repsonses are in italics:

POWER2010 sounds like an interesting campaign for political obsessives like me but why do you think this will succeed in a way that previous ones perhaps haven't? For example as far as I can tell, despite all the hard work of you and your colleagues, almost none of the original Power Inquiry key recommendations have been implemented three and a half years on.

There have been, as you say, many campaigns over the past few decades which have tried – in various ways - to get democratic and constitutional reform realised. I have been involved with many of them. You are right – despite the welcome the Power Inquiry report received – little has changed. I think you have identified the problem very accurately. In the end we have been reliant on politicians – those with power to implement reforms – reforms which in most cases will see them losing Power. And – they just can’t take that!

So despite fine words, things don’t change. But I do believe that change can happen. Look at how the Scottish Parliament came about – we needed an Act of Parliament and for MPs to vote for change. But they were persuaded in favour of the Parliament in the end because of the campaign in Scotland which involved civil society and real people and over years persisted and changed the culture in which that conversation was taking place. We need to do the same now.

The MPs expenses row gave people a real shock - a shock that has led many to begin to believe that it’s the system that needs reforming – that replacing one set of MPs with another isn’t going deliver meaningful change. It’s a question of how we do politics not just who is in charge.

How will you decide which citizens will form the group to decide the shortlist of reforms?

We will ask an independent body to run the process of honing down all the ideas we receive into a range of suggested reforms which we can put to the popular vote. The citizens will be randomly chosen from across the country and be representative.

If one of the five reforms that the public want is electoral reform to a proportional system for the House of Commons, how can we persuade potential turkeys to sign up to a certain Christmas?

I think it isn’t just electoral reform which poses this problem . So many democratic and constitutional reforms will temper or confine the power of those in power – by sharing power with other bodies – by giving people more of a say or by creating more effective checks. The way we get over this is to have a moral hold over those in power. We want them to know that back in their constituencies there are thousands and thousands of local people who will continue to call for and press their local representative for these changes. Democratic reform is no longer the play thing of a small groups of people; it’s something we all want and need.

Given that even governments don't always stick to their manifesto promises once elected (e.g. 1997 electoral system referendum from Labour) how can POWER2010 ensure that candidates who sign up possibly in a fairly lukewarm way will follow through on their pledge in the subsequent parliament?

Once we have the pledge established - and remember the reforms contained in the pledge will have been created by us all – we will be reliant on local people spreading the word. Local people asking their candidates to take the pledge seriously and commit themselves to it . It is that relationship – between a local voter and a potential MP - that we need to work hard on establishing. It will be easy for MPs or want to be MPs to dismiss an ask that comes from an office far from their constituency. It is harder to ignore one that is being driven by local people – local voters – their potential supporters.

What political backing does the campaign have?

This is a strictly non-party political campaign. Those who will be involved are from all parties and no party at all. Our success will depend on engaging the concerned ordinary member of the public who wants to change how this country is run.

There seem to be a lot of campaigns launching off the back of the MPs expenses scandal. Is there not a danger that the public just gets overwhelmed by them all and they just switch off? What are you doing to try and avoid this?

The MPs expenses scandal isn’t really what we are responding to, however that series of events bought into the public’s mind issues of accountability and transparency – how we run the UK – who has Power and where Power lies. The issue of MPs expenses was a symptom of something much deeper and it highlighted that.

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