Our Ideas Updates

Updated Apr 2014

Political Reform

An effective programme of democratic reform must go beyond traditional constitutional debates about voting systems and House of Lords reform, as these debates focus exclusively on how to limit and check power exercised by and within the state.

If public confidence in our political culture is to be revived then our political system must seek to hold power accountable, wherever it resides. The global financial crisis demonstrates the catastrophic consequences that can arise when toxic levels of power build up in a capitalist economy.

We believe

transformative democratic reform must aim to create new sites of political and economic power in different locations and different sections of society

The more political power is dispersed the less likely it is to be captured by small and remote cliques of individuals or vested interests.

READ MORE: Democracy in Britain: Essays in honour of James Cornford

Entrenched and deepening patterns of political inequality along social and economic lines pose a clear danger to our democracy.

In particular, people who are older and wealthier are much more likely to vote than younger, poorer people. Because elected politicians are more responsive to the interests of the people who do vote, this creates a vicious cycle. As politicians pay less attention to their needs, younger and less well-off people feel more and more that they are being ignored, and so become less and less likely to vote at the next opportunity.

To tackle this growing political inequality radical measures are required to include the voices of the excluded in our democratic process.

We propose

a form of compulsory voting, in which voting is compulsory for an individual's first eligible election

Voting once can create a good habit of voting in future. Also, by increasing participation among a younger demographic, compulsory first-time voting would force politicians to focus on a wider range of groups and needs in society.

READ MORE: Divided democracy: Political inequality in the UK and why it matters

Political parties play a vital role in encouraging and enabling democratic participation. But they are in serious trouble: membership has collapsed making political parties – and the elites that run them – more remote and disconnected from the population at large. This creates a void in which populist parties and their anti-politics rhetoric are able to flourish.

We believe political parties must be revived. To do so, they must become broader, less tribal movements.

We propose

a model of state funding that encourages them to reach out to the communities they serve

State funding would support parties' important activities, and also reduce the influence of 'big money' (from businesses or unions) in our political system.

READ MORE: Keeping it Clean: State funding of political parties

Some change in our traditional political structures at Westminster and Whitehall is required to ensure that the civil service is more responsive and accountable to ministers and parliament, while remaining professional and non-partisan.

We propose

a greater role for the prime minister in appointing permanent secretaries, and stronger support for ministers

We believe senior civil servants should be directly accountable to parliament for the major work of their departments, and that ministerial offices should be extended to provide the resources that ministers need to do a good job.

READ MORE: Accountability and responsiveness in the senior civil service

Adopted by Coalition government, June 2013

Dispersing power means bringing a wider range of participants into direct contact with our democratic processes, including people from all parts of the country and all sections of society.

We support

expansion of initiatives, like citizens' assemblies, that ensure the voice of ordinary citizens is heard in political decision-making

Decentralising power means devolving responsibilities and decisions to local areas that the people who live there actually identify with.

We believe

directly elected mayors are the best means of holding local power accountable

A strong democracy will recognise the diversity of nations, cities, towns and communities that make up the United Kingdom.

We support

a model of enhanced devolution, which we call 'devo more', that meets the aspirations of the people of the devolved nations and preserves the integrity of the UK

This model would hand over additional powers and responsibilities to the devolved parliaments and provide a clear alternative to independence in Scotland.

READ MORE: Devo more and welfare: Devolving benefits and policy for a stronger union

Endorsed by Scottish Labour & Scottish Lib-Dems, March 2013

In line with enhanced devolution, England needs to be given greater recognition within our political and constitutional arrangements.

We propose

a set of discrete England-only processes within the Westminster parliament and the decentralisation of power across England's towns and communities

Partially adopted by the McKay Commission, March 2013

READ MORE: England and the Union: How and why to answer the West Lothian question

At the same time, we believe the strengthening of English identity is a social and cultural phenomenon that should be recognised and celebrated, to support England's political role and to counter expressions of Englishness based on nationalism or exclusion.

READ MORE: England and its two unions: The anatomy of a nation and its discontents

We support

a clear in/out referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union

There is a strong democratic imperative to hold an in/out EU referendum. It would also provide an invaluable opportunity and stimulus for pro-European supporters to make the case for the UK's continuing membership.

READ MORE: Staying in: A reform plan for Britain and Europe

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