Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A message from my good friends at Unlock Democracy

2009 was a dreadful year for the reputation of the UK Parliament but the truth is that the backlash was the culmination of a number of outrages in recent years, not just a handful of stories about trouser presses and duck houses back in May.

Indeed, the 2005-2010 Parliament has been mired in scandal, kicking off with the loans for peerages debacle. One is tempted to say we can't go on like this but the simple fact is that certain parts of the political establishment are determined to do all that they can to ensure that we do.

As we enter another election period, it is important to remember that the loans for peerages scandal in 2006 was kicked off by the main parties' need for ready cash to fight their general election campaigns. While the upcoming general election is a much needed opportunity for Parliament to renew itself it is also another opportunity for parties to get themselves into even more trouble.

In the next election, politicians will be falling over themselves to tell voters they have a choice, while quietly conspiring to narrow that choice as much as possible. The “big two” party leaders are working to ensure that fundamental reforms such as proportional representation and caps on millionaire donors to political parties are off the agenda for the general election. We have to make sure they do not get away with this.

Last summer it briefly looked as if the main parties had finally realised that simply mouthing the rhetoric of reform was not enough and it is of course disappointing that they have reverted to their old ways so quickly. But there are some signs of hope. While the MPs' expenses scandal has been a bloody mess, it does look as if the sort of abuses we have seen are highly unlikely to be repeated - a definite (if indirect) victory for freedom of information.

The Wright Commission report published at the end of 2009 will be an important litmus test in 2010: either MPs will sign up to its proposals to make government more accountable and give the public a greater say in Parliament, or they will allow the party whips to quietly water them down. Have you asked your MP how they intend to respond yet?

We are continuing to push for a Citizens' Convention to draw up an action plan to make UK politics more ethical and accountable and are enthused that, thanks to your efforts, more than 25% of MPs from across the political spectrum have called for it to be enshrined in law. This suggests that the thirst for real reform even among MPs is much greater than Gordon Brown and David Cameron would like you to believe.

We will also have one other chance to make a positive reform before the general election. The Sustainable Communities Act Amendment Bill, which will put the Sustainable Communities Act on a more permanent footing, has been sponsored by Alastair Burt MP and is due to be debated on 26 February 2009. We need you to write to your MP to insist that they attend the debate.

Leaving aside the parties' election manifestos themselves, there is much to be done during the general election itself. An unprecedented number of MPs will be retiring this spring and so, regardless of the eventual result, we can be sure that the next Parliament will be full of new faces, who will be more open about the need for real change. This election is an excellent opportunity to engage with this new generation of politicians and make them listen.

Regardless of how you choose to make a difference in 2010, I hope you will have a productive new year.

With best wishes,

Peter Facey
Director, Unlock Democracy

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