People’s Parliament week one: revolution and prison abolition

The People’s Parliament is a new discussion series, hosted by John McDonnell MP, with the aim of livening up and providing political depth to the debate in the run up to the next election.

The People’s Parliament is under way.

Last Monday a jam packed committee room in The House of Commons saw contributions from Caroline Lucas MP, journalist Owen Jones and academic David Graeber, who were speaking on the question of What sort of democracy do we need‘?

The People’s Parliament is a new discussion series, hosted by John McDonnell MP, with the aim of livening up and providing political depth to the debate in the run up to the next election. John explains:

“With 14 months to go before the next election, we should be entering a period of intensive debate about the state of the country and the politics we want for the future. This hasn’t taken off yet and usually the last place to look for this is in parliament itself, with its often sterile knockabout politics.

However, the meeting rooms are there and we are going to use them to bring some real politics to parliament. You never know, it might even infect the Commons chamber itself.”

The first event saw a discussion which was inspired by Russell Brand’s Newsnight comments on voting which have shaken up Westminster.

Caroline Lucas MP opened by saying “we need a democracy that is very very different to what we have today”, and explained how since her time in office she has seen very clearly that corporate interests are embedded within the walls of Parliament. She added that “debates at Occupy were much more vibrant than debates in Parliament”.

David Graeber spoke about how the political classes have become irrelevant to the working classes. “The political classes need to prove there relevance to us, otherwise we’re just going to carry on without them.” He also made reference to “finance capital as the apotheosis of paperwork” after his widely read article on ‘bullshit jobs’.

Owen Jones was very passionate and talked about how “historically social justice and progress, including winning the vote, has been won by those from below, not above.”

He ended by saying we need a “democratic revolution of wealth and power to ordinary people”.

Instead of having a traditional Q & A session, John McDonnell, who chaired, gave the rest of the available time for the audience to speak out on whatever they felt necessary to say.

Someone argued for proportional representation, someone said we should scrap Parliament altogether and another person joked that for a start “we could try and change things so that we don’t have a situation whereby politicians all went to the same schools together”.

The next day, there was a fascinating discussion about prisons. Experts from The Howard League, National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO), Prison Officers Association (POA) and the mental health charity Mind spoke about there ideas for ‘future prison policy in England and Wales‘.

Perhaps surprisingly there was an overwhelming consensus that we can and should have a lot less people in prisons.

Frances Crook from The Howard League spoke very strongly about this and argued that most people in prison could be dealt with in there communities, if the same amount of funding that goes into prisons was redirected into community measures instead.

Keith Mallinson from MIND said we must “scrap the private profiteer contracts” which hand over our prisons to be run by the likes of Serco and G4S. What is most scary about this is that “G4S & Serco will never complain about overcrowding in prisons as it means more money for them. Making a profit out of justice is wrong” explained PJ McParlin from POA. He represents thousands of prison officers across the country.

PJ McParlin echoed Frances Crook’s call for prisoners to be dealt with in communities instead. At the moment “we’re locking up the mentally ill, the vulnerable, people who made one mistake and also the innocent”.

Elfyn Llywd MP (a member of the Justice Select Committee) was chair and he talked about visiting Texas on a government trip where they have closed down prisons and deal with people in there communities instead, “so it is possible” he said.

Ian Lawrence from NAPO concluded by saying “let’s remember this place is actually ours, and not the government’s”. Amen to that.

Check out future planned People’s Parliament events here.

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