Comment: We can’t let our constitution be rewritten behind closed doors

How can devolution deals be expected to function if the public don't back them?


Devolution deals signed across the country with barely any public involvement, and a review of the House of Lords led by a Conservative hereditary Peer – it seems that our constitution is being re-shaped behind closed doors.

Let’s start with devolution. Plans to hand councils more powers are being signed across the country as we speak, with two new deals rubber-stamped this week alone. Generally, they’re drafted behind closed doors and with little public consultation, with only Durham so far offering residents a vote on the proposals.

Yet if local people don’t back the deals, how can they be expected function well?

But in exchange for the extra control over transport, housing and other areas, the government is imposing elected mayors on cities that voted against them just a few years ago, and further cutting the resources that local authorities need. If the public don’t like it? Tough.

Next is the government’s current ‘rapid review’ of the Lords, led by Thomas Galloway Dunlop du Roy de Blicquy Galbraith, 2nd Baron Strathclyde, CH PC – otherwise known as Lord Strathclyde.

The report will focus on what is essentially a technicality: restricting the ability of Lords to vote on financial matters via ‘statutory instruments’ – a form of secondary legislation that bypasses most parliamentary procedure.

The government is keen to make the Lords more like rubber-stampers in robes than legislative challengers following their defeat on tax credits a couple of weeks ago.

But given that the Lords has just swelled to well over 800 members, that it is so often beset by scandal, and that we need an effective revising chamber – isn’t it time for a real review of the upper chamber involving the public, rather than just Lords and Baronesses?

Most of the public think it’s time for genuine change – a poll from the Electoral Reform Society showed just 10 per cent back the chamber in its current form – ie. the only fully-unelected chamber in Europe.

Most people think we need an elected upper house, not just tinkering around the edges with the bloated and illegitimate mess we have now. Where’s their chance for a say?

The list goes on – English Votes for English Laws, Welsh devolution, the European Referendum Bill. What draws these together is they are all major changes to the fabric of our democracy – our constitutional future. Yet people are left out in the cold.

There is a better way of updating our democracy. Last weekend in Southampton, academics from universities across the country and the Electoral Reform Society held the final ‘Citizens’ Assembly’ on local democracy – an experiment in democracy, drawing in a representative sample of people from across the region to debate and vote on the authority’s devolution plans.

Dubbed ‘Democracy Matters’, it’s been closely watched by local councils because the level of engagement from participants has surprised everyone. Democracy, it turns out, can be exciting.

Another Assembly in Sheffield offered voters a voice on the ‘devolution revolution’ there. These are exciting demonstrations of how to put citizens in charge of building our constitution. Westminster must watch and learn.

Up and down the country it appears that when people get a chance to become informed and speak up, they jump at it. We can’t have our constitution written on the whims of the great and good – with politicians writing their own rule book. It’s time for citizens to lead the debate on our democratic future.

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion. Follow her on Twitter

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7 Responses to “Comment: We can’t let our constitution be rewritten behind closed doors”

  1. Bradley EC

    These assemblies are anti-democratic as they only represent the people attending. We need to move forward with online democracy. Yet truth is. most political sites, like this one, are barely alive.


    Constitutions have to be debated in both Houses of Parliament. The woman is clearly idle and has time on her hands.

  3. Wobbly chops

    We would be in mud huts burning animal dung if her policies became reality .

  4. CGR

    “academics from universities across the
    country and the Electoral Reform Society held the final ‘Citizens’
    Assembly’ on local democracy – an experiment in democracy, drawing in a
    representative sample of people from across the region to debate and
    vote on the authority’s devolution plans.”

    Sounds like very undemocratic version of ‘democracy’ to me !!!

  5. Mark Myword

    Very few of our constitutional changes have the explicit approval of the public at large. We live in a parliamentary democracy so approval follows from the legitimacy of a government after a general election. Other than 1832 and 1911 I cannot think of a case where there has been general interest in a constitutional question. The two largest changes of recent years were the removal of the hereditary peers and the creation of life peers. The first had explicit approval from the previous election, the second was introduced in 1958 – it was not mentioned at the election of 1955, but not one commentator thought that the Government did not have the power and legitimacy to introduce such a major change. There was a major re-organisation of local government in 1974. This was controversial in some parts, not for constitutional reasons, but because it altered historic boundaries.

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