Unlock Britain's Potential
"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, no controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government of men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself. Just as we have civil laws to restrain men in society, so we have constitutional laws to restrain men in power"
- Former US President James Madison (1751-1836)
This autumn, Charter 88 and the New Politics Network have come together to launch a new campaign to tackle the crisis of legitimacy facing British politics. For several years now we have worked on a variety of projects together. The creation of Unlock Democracy means that will be working together more closely than ever before to keep our mutual concerns on the agenda and to minimise unnecessary duplication of resources.
The premise of Unlock Democracy is simple: far too much power is locked up in the hands of far too few people. In particular, we want to:
The combination of the inherited powers of feudal monarchs, modern media's concentration on the Prime Minster and overuse of the party whip has turned Britain in to one of the most centralised countries in Europe. Governments have become locked in a vicious circle of centralising power in an effort to improve public services, only to find this leads to increased dissatisfaction. The quango state - unelected and unaccountable bodies which have a direct impact on ordinary people's lives - has become a common feature of our political life.
Unlock the Constitution:
Despite advances such as the creation of the Human Rights Act, a simple majority in the House of Commons can curtail our rights and freedoms by changing our unwritten constitution. At a time of heightened security and fear of terrorism we believe that Britain needs a new constitutional settlement in which basic rights and freedoms are entrenched.
Unlock Political Parties:
Representative democracy is in long-term decline. However, instead of simply taking the populist stance that polticial parties are part of the problem, we need to recognise the important role they play in connecting the vast majority of voters to our political system. Unlock Democracy will be a critical friend of the political party: while being honest about its limitations, we will embrace its potential for encouraging greater participation. This means reforming the way parties are funded to incentivise meaningful engagement and talking up party activity as a public good rather than some sort of anti social behaviour.
Participation is about more than consultation. Nothing encourages cynicism more than a public body asking for views on an issue that has already been decided upon. The public should be given a real say in issues that concern them, using tools that provide genuine engagement such as Citizens' Juries. But such tools are expensive and can only involve a limited number of people at any one time. Citizens should be given the right to petition for Parliamentary debates, public inquiries and, where necessary, referendums on issues that concern them.
Unlock Democracy will continue campaign for individual reforms such as a predominantly elected Second Chamber and initiatives such as the Sustainable Communities Bill, and will play our part in reskilling the political process by holding events such as People and Politics Day. Ultimately however, we have two main goals in mind:
. A Citizens' Initiative Act
This would give citizens the right to initiate legislation and public inquiries at a local or national level if enough people -say 5% - call for it. If the elected body concerns fails to respond satisfactorily, the petitioners could trigger a binding referendum. Unlock Democracy plans to draft and table a Parliamentary Bill outlining this process within the next few months
. A Citizen's Convention
The UK needs a Constitutional Convention look at how the various tiers of government work together and to consider the entrenchment of basic rights and freedoms. However, such a convention must not be made up of the Great and Good. It needs to be created and agreed by the citizens of the United Kingdom because ultimately it is their freedoms and interests which it will serve and protect.
Unlock Democracy will work closely with any individual or organisation which shares our desire to unlock power and to change the nature of British democracy. Furthermore, as both Charter 88 and the New Politics Network are membership organisations, we practice what we preach: by joining both or either organisations you will be given a say in and a vote on what our priorities should be.
Peter Facey is the Director of Unlock Democracy.
Open letter to Mark Harper on lobbying reform by Unlock Democracy.
Unlock Democracy: David Cameron must keep his promise to increase the number of female ministers by the end of his first term
The Centre for Women and Democracy, Electoral Reform Society, Fawcett Society, Hansard Society and Unlock Democracy, have joined forces to launch Counting Women In, a new campaign calling for David Cameron to keep his promise to have 1/3 of his ministers be women by the end of his first term as Prime Minister
We welcome the government’s decision to establish a commission to look into the so-called West Lothian question. This is a long overdue investigation into a very serious anomaly in UK constitutional law.
A growing number of people have cosigned a letter to Assistant Police Commissioner Cressida Dick asking for clarification of the role of Operation Weeting and Operation Tuleta, and calling for the Metropolitan Police to widen their investigation to all reported incidences of illegal media intrusion.
Unlock Democracy: Lib Dem President charts decline of local government