05. 05. 2010

This election could be democracy's big chance

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It’s been amazing to see the vested interests of the right wing media, the City, and the political establishment going into overdrive on the prospective horrors of a hung parliament. One day the world is ticking over on a more or less comfortable basis, with our governance systems bumbling along in their reassuringly inadequate way, and the next (May 7th) the rating agencies have downgraded the status of UK debt to junk bonds, there are riots in the streets, the monarchy is at risk and civilization has collapsed.

There are, of course, some legitimate concerns about the mechanisms of coalition government. We should, of course, be mindful of what happens in countries like Belgium and Italy. There will, of course, be difficulties, frustrations and failures. But in comparison to the deep unfairness inherent in the current utterly dysfunctional system, those problems seem very manageable.

And this just has to be the moment where we make an absolute priority of revitalising our entire democratic system. The idea that this election should be won or lost at the behest of ‘the markets’ just shows how comprehensively our system has imploded.

Labour had such a moment back in 1997 (especially as its manifesto for that election included a crystal-clear commitment to introduce a referendum on electoral reform), but bottled it. Having done devolution for Scotland and Wales (which was brilliant) and part-reform of the House of Lords (which was a good start, but looks pathetically inadequate 13 years on), everything else got dumped.

And it’s all about so much more than electoral reform. One of the most inspiring initiatives running along in the background during the election period has been the Vote for Democracy campaign organised by Unlock Democracy – an organisation I once knew as Charter 88.

Their main report A Vote for Democracy?, analyzes the manifestos of all the major parties (as well as the Greens, Plaid Cymru, SNP, UKIP, Respect and the BNP) and scores them against five principal areas of interest:

- Fair, free and honest elections
- Rights, freedoms and written constitution
- Stronger parliament and accountable government
- Bringing power closer to the people
- A culture of informed political interest and responsibility

The headline scores emerging from that are as follows: Lib Dems 81 out of 100, Greens 80.5, SNP 57, Conservatives 46, and Labour 45.5. The rest are not really in it.

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