Our political system needs a complete overhaul - and we can do it
As the Green party conference begins, leader Natalie Bennett writes for PoliticsHome explaining how a complete restructure of our political system is necessary and achievable.
For four years as Green Party leader I’ve been saying that British politics is broken. That fact is now evident to the whole world.
Britain's politics has been stuck in a rut – locked seemingly forever in a cycle between Tory and Labour, Labour and Tory, without any real change at all.
The lack of change is the problem: the stagnation sees imbalances, injustices, and strains in our society magnified rather than dealt with.
The question is: how did we get here? The answer is the government didn’t reflect the will of the people - and that’s because of the structure of our politics.
The last significant change in Westminster was women getting the vote in 1918. That’s a century ago. We’ve got a creaking 19th-century structure – and that’s not just the building.
We need a complete restructure of our system, to deliver a politics that first recognises and acknowledges people’s needs, then works in their interests - not the interests of the richest 1%.
That requires people, parties, and movements to get together and work to achieve that. We know that the Conservative Party represents the interests of those doing just fine with the status quo.
To defeat those forces, we need unity among those committed to change.
This is why there’s a great deal of talk of a “progressive alliance” in the air. A number of parallel lines of work are trying to turn that into reality.
A progressive alliance – or progressive alliances, which might operate on the basis of a county, a city or even a single seat – don’t demand the agreement to a complete platform for five years of government. That would probably be impossible, and probably be undesirable. The lowest common denominator of agreement might well not allow the ideas we need for change to develop and flourish.
What we do need to agree – and what we are seeing increasing agreement about - is electoral reform.
We urgently need proportional representation elections: elections in which every vote counts, people can vote for what they believe in and get it, where there are no safe seats, no “wasted votes”, and in which the government genuinely reflects the will of the people. Achieving this won’t fix our pressing economic, social and environmental problems - but is an essential foundation to doing that.
So how might this go?
Let’s say Theresa May calls an early election.
The progressive alliance ensures it has enough candidates in enough seats to secure a majority in parliament, with two goals. First, to secure electoral reform for a new, proportional election in which fair votes can deliver a government reflecting the will of the people. Second, in the meantime, to govern in a way that starts to rebalance society and economy so they work for the common good, not the 1%, while working towards living within our environmental limits.
Having won the election, the progressive alliance government immediately calls a people’s constitutional convention: a representative group of individuals from all around the country of all ages and backgrounds to be given the time, resources and expert advice to draw up the outline of a new constitution. This is an idea on which civil society has been doing a great deal of work – trial conventions addressing local government issues have already been held in Sheffield
The progressive alliance government would implement that constitution, then dissolve for new elections in which people could vote for what they believe in and get it – in which they’d know their vote counted, as many voters were surprised to find their vote counted in the EU referendum.
This is a tight but doable timetable which could see that happen in two years.
So in March 2019, we go to the polls in a historic election: Britain’s first fair, proportional election for the Commons and the Lords. Fittingly, it is just about 100 years after women got the vote, the essential step forward into the 21st century British democracy.
Easy when you say it like that. Obvious even.
Of course it isn’t that.
But it can, I believe, be done - with courage, with determination, with a preparedness to act in the national interest – the need to deal with the national emergency taking precedence over narrow personal and party interests.
And so do many people are determined to deliver the change we so badly need.
They are helping to build out of the current chaos and failure something new, positive and hopeful – a constitution for Britain and a new form of democracy in which people can believe and trust.
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