Rupert Read outlines six steps towards a more people-focused Britain
In the recent EU referendum, we had the experience of our votes counting. Each person’s vote had the same weight as everyone else’s, whether you were in a ‘safe seat’ or a ‘marginal’.
Because, for once, the whole country was voting in one election (rather than 651 elections). There were lots of problems with the referendum campaign, but at least the voting system for it was fair.
In those countries (nearly all the democracies in the world, in fact) where all elections are by ‘fair votes’ systems, all elections are like that: Wherever you live, your vote then counts the same as everyone else’s. The number of seats a party gets is then proportional to the number of votes it gets. That’s why ‘fair votes’ systems are called ‘proportional representation’ systems (PR, for short).
In the EU referendum, the Leave side promised that we would be able to ‘take back control’, if we voted Leave. But: what exactly did they mean by this?
Who controls Britain?
Parliament consists of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The House of Lords is of course little more than a worldwide joke, because it isn’t elected at all. If we are really going to take back control, then we have to replace the House of Lords with a democratic alternative.
The House of Commons is little better, because it is elected by ‘First Past The Post’ (FPTP), and so most voters — including everyone living in ‘safe seats’ — are simply irrelevant. It’s high time to replace the unfair, outdated and undemocratic FPTP system with PR.
These two changes represent a big step toward really taking back control. For they would mean a parliament responsive to you, wherever you live, instead of the undemocratic out-of-date Parliament that currently exists, where your vote counts for little or nothing.
But these changes to how Parliament is elected are only the start. Much more is needed, if together we are going to take control.
- For far too long now, globalised mega-businesses have called the shots as to what governments can and can’t do. Fat cats have become obscenely rich, while escaping from paying their fair share of tax by offshoring their assets. It is essential now to rein in out-of-control markets, multinational businesses and the super-rich. To prevent private banks from creating money out of thin air. To shut down the tax-havens that secretly steal your money, and to force the richest one to pay their fair share, for the common good. It’s time that your life and your money were in your hands, not in the hands of some mega-business with its offices in Jersey or Bermuda.
- Successive governments have flogged off precious public institutions such as our trains, our water, even some of our hospitals. This must end. These things were in public hands for two good reasons: because everyone needs them; and because they are naturally monopolies (It makes no sense to have two water companies with two water pipes to your house, or two rail companies building tracks side by side with each other). It’s time to restore these institutions to public ownership, so that they work for the common good and not merely for the purses of the few.
- ‘Globalisation’ has basically meant unaccountable rule by the super-rich, wherever they are in the world. This is unacceptable. It’s time to force business to take its place: If a company wants to sell its products here, it needs to be sited here and taxed here. It’s time to start to reverse economic globalisation: it’s time for localisation, instead. It’s time to revive and strengthen local government, no longer starving local councils of cash, and to introduce innovative new techniques such as citizens juries, participatory budgeting and internet voting to ensure that you get to be involved in what your local Council decides to do. And it’s time to initiate a new debate about a federal or confederal future for the UK: it is time for Scotland, Wales and England to be recognised as countries in their own right, within the overall context of a continuing role for the UK. It is time, in particular, for a real English Parliament.
- One per cent of the people own 70 per cent of the land in England. In Scotland, the figures are even more extreme. This is just plain wrong. This land is ours – that is to say, yours and mine, everyone’s. It’s time initiate a gradual programme of land-reform: every citizen who wants some land and has an idea on how they want to use it will be entitled to be granted some, every year.
- Nature has been ruthlessly exploited by big business (and government) for far too long. And communities have suffered, whether from open-cast mining, fracking, housebuilding on green belts, destruction of woodland, or the building of roads or runways where local people don’t want them. This must end. It’s time to create community rights to resist ‘development’. It will no longer be possible for you to be forced by distant monied powers to trash nature and pave over green, where you live.
- Finally: none of this can be done while our press is the worst in the Western world. The press in this country is a dead weight stopping any real reform, any real taking back of control. Our press remains unreformed despite even the lessons of Hillsborough, despite the despicable phone-hacking scandal, despite the terrible coverage of the EU referendum itself. It’s time to end the absurd situation of ineffectual press ‘self-regulation’: we should implement the Leveson reforms and to make it impossible for one man to control entire fleets of newspapers. And we should fund independent community journalism and investigative journalism.
When we were told we could ‘take back control’ by a Leave campaign that was happy to keep intact the electoral system for the House of Commons, the unelected House of Lords, big business control of our country at the deepest level, and unaccountable big business control of the press, we were sold a pup.
Democracy means, literally, ‘the people govern’. It’s been a long long time (if ever) since the people governed in this country.
So it’s high time for all that I have outlined above. But how are they going to happen?
The way they might finally happen, in four years time if not before, is through a government with wide popular support and a movement behind it being elected, a government that will be determined to make these changes happen. The only government that would make these things happen is a government with a strengthened cohort of Green MPs.
Give us the chance to lead, and, as we have set out here, you will at last have the chance to govern.
It’s time for Britons to really take control.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.