Politics for the Many

For some the abolition of universal credit will stand out, for others the Green New Deal will mean the most, for others it will be health and education that are most important. But in the section on Tackling Poverty and Inequality you will find a commitment on the Constitution.

Not everyone will turn to this as a matter of priority, but it is essential to get our constitution right to protect the other policies that will result in real change.

Constitutional change is never neutral. It will always have a political purpose. The fact that we have retained an unelected chamber in our Parliament while claiming to be “the world’s oldest democracy” reflects the conservative nature of our politics, no matter which Party has been in power.  We have a second chamber that is the epitome of class interest.

Not only does it still include some hereditary peers, but most of the other members come from backgrounds and positions that put them amongst the elite. It is supposed to be a chamber of ‘experts’, but the expertise it favours is that of the establishment.  

As well as ex MPs and Privy Councillors there are senior lawyers, doctors, academics, business people, there are a few celebrities to give it a touch of glamour. Among some of the most active members you will find campaigners and trade unionists, but with an age profile well above retirement it is even less representative of our wider society than the House of Commons.

The House of Lords should have been abolished decades ago. Keir Hardie wrote in his 1910 manifesto of 1910 “I would rather END than MEND the House of Lords”.

But there is more to the abolition than finally creating a fully democratic Houses of Parliament. It will release resources for a Senate of the Nations and Regions. This should be a step towards a progressive federalism which shares both political and economic power across the UK based on principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, parity of esteem and co-operation not competition between different parts of the UK. It will challenge the London centred nature of political, business and cultural power.

Progressive federalism will have imbedded within its constitution safeguards for the redistribution of wealth, a democratically controlled economy and rights for workers.

Under a federal arrangement there must be common minimum standards across the UK covering human rights, employment rights, consumer and environmental protection. The Scottish Parliament and other devolved assemblies should have the power to enhance but never detract from these minimum standards.  

The abolition of the House of Lords should not wait on the outcome of the proposed Constitutional Convention. Quite rightly such a body with its input from citizen assemblies will take time and will have to consider a raft of different issues such as voting systems and whether to have a written constitution. The replacement of the House of Lords with an elected chamber can happen more quickly. It is 20 years since the Scottish Parliament and Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies were established and there began the process of a patchwork of different systems across England including Metro Mayors and City Deals.  It seems obvious now that we needed a federal arrangement to challenge centralisation of London and to enable the nations and regions to work together.

Now is the time to put democracy above privilege and to bring about real change.

Pauline Bryan

Labour Peer

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