Unless we overhaul Westminster, Labour will keep ceding ground to the Brexit party

An open letter to Jeremy Corbyn from over 250 Labour members.

“My new Brexit party stands ready to defend democracy” wrote Nigel Farage in February, launching his campaign. 

Throughout the European election – and indeed in the current Peterborough by-election –‘democracy’ was front and centre. It was a cynical move, but it worked.

It’s no surprise: just 4% of people feel properly represented, according to fresh polling for the ERS. The feeling is particularly strong among Brexit Party supporters: 85% of them say they have few or no opportunities to inform and influence the decisions made by MPs at Westminster.

But the mantle of democracy is too important to leave to the hard right. This year marks 200 years since the Peterloo Massacre, where working people stood up to secure the (admittedly limited) franchise. It was the start of a democratic journey that has never been completed. 

10 years since the start of the expenses scandal, public trust is actually even lower now. The dangers of alienation and disillusionment cannot be overstated. And they can only be countered with a bold and positive vision to give power back. 

That vision for a new, participatory politics must start with a firm commitment to scrapping the unelected House of Lords, and replacing it with a fairly-elected chamber of the nations and communities of the UK. What better way to say Labour is ‘for the many’ than this hugely-popular policy?

And we need to end the centralised ‘Westminster model’ of politics by involving voters outside of election time. It’s time to get serious about building a truly participatory society.

Now more than 250 Labour members have joined Politics for the Many to write to Jeremy Corbyn, asking that he make overhauling Westminster’s crumbling set-up a priority.

Letter in full

Dear Jeremy,  

10 years ago, the expenses scandal rocked faith in politics. Since then, almost nothing has been done to restore trust. 

In that vacuum – and amid the Brexit deadlock – the door has been left wide open for the hard right to seize the narrative of ‘defending democracy’, as we saw in the European elections.

According to new research, 67% of people feel they have no or very few opportunities to influence political decisions. Voters do not feel represented at Westminster. And just 19% think our political system encourages cooperation. It is now urgent that Labour responds to the democratic crisis we face.

Our crumbling Westminster-centric politics continues to leave voters powerless and distant from where decisions are made, with no real say over who represents them. Brexit was arguably a symptom of that feeling of disconnect.

The Labour Party exists to empower people, to give everyone a voice in our communities and our country. The only way to address the problems society faces today, through the politics of a Labour government, is to move towards a new political system. To truly build a politics for the many we need a wholesale renewal of our democracy.

A Labour government needs to break the dysfunctional Westminster system and to repair our broken politics.

This should start with a firm commitment to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with a fairly-elected second chamber, representing the nations and localities of the UK. This would send the clearest message of all that Labour believes in ‘power for the many’.

And a Labour government must enable new ways to participate, expanding the use of ‘citizens’ assemblies’ and kick-starting a constitutional convention. This would allow people across the UK to shape the big constitutional questions of our time.

If we do not provide an answer to the democratic crisis, others will. But with a bold and inspiring agenda for change, Labour can begin to heal the divisions in our politics.

This is why we call on Jeremy Corbyn to put democratic reform at the heart of Labour’s transformational programme for government.

Signed:

  • Malcolm Clarke, Wythenshawe & Sale East, Branch chair 
  • Gerry Mitchell, Woking CLP Secretary
  • Dave Cowan, Treasurer Swansea West
  • Ama Menec, Totnes, Environment and Animal Protection Coordinator
  • Robin Layfield, Stroud CLP, EC member, deputy Branch Secretary
  • Owen Winter, Oxford East, Former co-Chair Oxford Uni Labour Club
  • Robert Dimmick, Reading East; vice-chairman of Peppard Ward
  • Sarah Perrigo, Leeds NE Political Education Officer
  • Malcolm Sawyer, Leeds North East
  • Grahame Bligh, Leeds West Labour
  • Elizabeth Warren, Leicester East – Vice-Chair Evington Branch
  • Penny Hajduk, Kemptown and Peacehaven CLP – Membership Sec. for Moulsecoomb and Bevendean
  • Chris O’Donovan, Harborough, branch vice chairperson
  • Chris Padwick, Harrow West
  • Janet Mears, Hastings & Rye
  • Alan Mathison, Hastings & Rye CLP – Trade Union Liaison
  • Peter Thorne, Burnley TULO Officer
  • Jane Speller, Calder Valley Women’s Officer
  • Elizabeth Lewis  Bournemouth CLP Women’s Officer. Councillor for West Southbourne
  • Casper Sims Basingstoke (Policy Officer)
  • Huw Spanner, Bath
  • Mark Normington, Battersea
  • Trevor Hyett, Battersea
  • Jean Watson, Bedford Kempston disability officer
  • Amanda Bailey, Pentraeth
  • Alan Green, Peterborough
  • Morgan Dalton, Peterborough
  • Michael Hinds, Plymouth Sutton & Devonport
  • Martin Musgrave, Poplar and Limehouse
  • Julie Harrison, Putney

And more than 230 others [full list here].

Key Labour figures will be speaking at a major conference in August marking 200 years since the Peterloo massacre. Find out more here.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward and with Politics for the Many and the Electoral Reform Society.

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7 Responses to “Unless we overhaul Westminster, Labour will keep ceding ground to the Brexit party”

  1. Tom Sacold

    No effective socialist economic reform can be achieved whilst we remain a member of the neoliberal EU and its market based regulations.

  2. Tom Sacold

    A fully elected second chamber would be an excellent step forward.

    We also need a written constitution based on socialist principles.

  3. Patrick Newman

    Hitched to a social democratic uneasy alliance with neo-liberalism of the EU or lashed to the alt-Right of the USA and their idea of trade deals! I just about prefer the former.

  4. Dave Roberts

    Once again you have all missed the bus and don’t understand what is going on. Basically a substantial minority of people in this country have ad enough of London based metropolitan elite lecturing them in what they should believe. The metropolitan bubble isn’t confined to the capital, it has permeated every part of the country and every section of our society. The Labour Party is now just Corbyn, Thornberry and Abbott as far as an increasing number of Labour voters are concerned, patronising, arrogant utterly out of touch with reality.

    What I see happening is the following. The Greens are emerging as permanent political force with their own agenda which isn’t that of the traditional left rooted as it is in in the descendants of Trotsky and Stalin. That section of the left is statist and centralist which the many strands of green politics reject. Once their movement gets itself together to run stuff like dustbins and street lights as they didn’t in Brighton they will be running town councils across the country.
    Their support comes from disaffected people who were Labour or who would have been Labour but now have an alternative. It is the greens who are the biggest threat to Labour in a FPTP arrangement.

    The Lib Dems will soldier on remaining on the fringes as they are neither one thing nor the other. Faced with a UK that has left the EU under some form of Brexit, which is what is going to happen, and the prospect of a Labour victory at a GE under Corbyn or someone similar Brexit voters will return to the Tories who will remain in power for the next five to ten years.

  5. Geoff Barr

    Much of this is sound. However, I disagree with the House of Lords reform proposals. We need a democratic (elected by STV) Parliament of one house. If the second chamber has the same representation as the first, it is a waste. If it differs you face the risk of deadlock.

    Democracy needs to be deepened in a real revival of local power. The hard fact for the left is that such a change needs a secure financial basis. Without an independent source of income a local authority cannot be independent of central government.

    Democracy also needs to spread to the workplace.

  6. Dodgy Geezer

    If we stay in the EU, the UK Parliament is a complete irrelevance. The EU have already said that they will take power from national governments and concentrate it in Brussels.

  7. Sean Connor

    Britain, under Johnson, will be on it’s suicidal race to a no-deal Brexit, an the Americanisation of Health care-it will mean the destruction of Labour’s greatest achievement, the NHS.

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