Clegg’s 100 Day Action Plan to save Britain’s Democracy IN FULL

No, you weren’t dreaming – you really did wake up to news headlines dominated by the leader of the Lib Dems promenading the party’s proposals to reform the UK’s democratic processes. Full marks to the party’s media operation today – it’s a long time since an article by a Lib Dem has made such a splash.

There will be some – I see them already appearing in the LDV comments threads – who argue that what Nick Clegg is calling for is hopelessly Utopian. I disagree. What Nick is doing (successfully, in my view) is:

(1) setting the bar high for what is needed for genuine reform to improve democracy in the UK – unlike David Cameron he isn’t merely “seriously considering” fixed-term Parliaments, Nick is putting forward a legislative programme which will achieve them;
(2) putting clear gold water between the Lib Dems and the Tories – there is little wrong with what David Cameron has proposed (bar his knee-jerk opposition to electoral reform and an elected house of lords), it’s just that it’s wholly inadequate;
(3) demonstrating that if the political will is there, change can be achieved – if politicians are serious and united about the need for real reform, there is no reason why legislation cannot be expedited swiftly. As Anthony Barnett noted on open Democracy yesterday, “You could not have found an expert in the land who would have said that Labour could have passed the amount of very far-reaching constitutional reforms it pushed through in its first term. What matters is the will to change. That’s why Cameron’s careful let-out clauses speak louder to me than the fine words.”

For those who wish to devour the Lib Dems’ constitutional reforms in full, glorious, technicolor detail, they’re re-printed IN FULL below:

Changing Politics For Good

Britain’s democracy is at a turning point. Not in living memory has confidence in politicians, trust in the system, or faith in the government’s capacity to change things been as low as it is today. The expenses scandal has exposed a culture of arrogance and secrecy that has long been at the heart of our democracy.

Now the true extent of the rot in the system is clear to people, there is huge and growing public demand for change. This has become a once in a generation chance to reform politics completely, putting power back into the hands of the people, where it belongs. The need for constitutional renewal is now recognised across the political spectrum.

Many of the proposals put forward, however, are full of caveats and caution, proposing committees to consider change rather than change itself. This approach would be a disaster, delaying in the face of an emergency and allowing the opportunity for change to seep away. Reform must be swift and decisive, and must address all the key issues of accountability and transparency because unless all the dead wood is cut out, the rot will continue.

This paper sets out an action plan to save Britain’s democracy. Almost all the reforms needed can be achieved in the next 100 days, and we should not let the process go on longer than this. This is possible because most of the necessary legislation is already before Parliament – it is just currently being blocked by establishment figures. The remaining legislation can be drawn up quickly – there have been Private Members’ Bills promoted by the Liberal Democrats and others in the past that can be recycled – and pushed through.

Of course, those who have a vested interest in the status quo will argue that things can’t be done this quickly, secretly hoping that momentum will, indeed, dissipate. They are mistaken: the changes needed have been long discussed, and many even agreed in principle. There can be no more excuses or stalling. Those who seek to delay are barriers to reform: they want to ride out the storm with warm words without letting any change actually happen.

The upcoming 11 week summer recess would hand them a victory – potentially destroying the momentum for change. Therefore, Parliament should not break for the summer recess until the following steps are agreed and passed into law:

1. Commitment to accept Kelly expenses reform in full
2. Recall power for MPs suspended for misconduct
3. House of Lords reform
4. Party funding reform
5. Fixed term Parliaments
6. Enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+
7. Changes to House of Commons procedure to reduce executive power

Together, over the next 100 days, we could achieve nothing less than the total reinvention of British politics, underpinned by the fundamental principles of accountability, transparency and probity. These months would become a great moment in British political history, rather than a shabby footnote to a shameful month of revelations.

100 Day Action Plan
DAY 1: A resolution of both Houses to accept Sir Christopher Kelly’s expenses review
WEEK 1: Clerks to draw up Members of Parliament (Recall) Bill
WEEK 2: Government to table Hayden Phillips amendments to Political Parties and Elections Bill currently before the House of Lords
WEEK 3: Parliament to pass Lord Tyler’s Constitutional Renewal Bill currently before the House of Lords
WEEK 4: New Speaker to convene Party talks to agree changes to Commons procedure. Changes to be agreed by Day 100; implemented for the new Parliamentary Term.
WEEKS 4-5: Parliament to pass enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+
WEEK 6-7: Parliament to pass enabling legislation for an elected Senate
WEEKS 8-9: Parliament to pass Members of Parliament (Recall) Bill
WEEK 10: Commissioner to report on all MPs to Parliament; votes to be held on suspension
WEEK 11+: Petitions to begin in relevant constituencies if voters choose
DAY 100: Referendum to be held on new proportional election system

Detailed proposals

1. Commitment to accept Kelly expenses reform in full

The expenses scandal is at the heart of the collapse in public trust in politicians, and must be the first thing to be cleared up. By accepting Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations “blind” – before we see them – MPs would demonstrate a clear commitment to act in the public interest rather than their own. Parliament cannot legally bind its own hands, but MPs who agreed to the Kelly review now would find it difficult to go back on their word come the autumn. We should therefore pass a resolution in both Houses of Parliament to abide by Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations in full, without seeking to amend or challenge them.

DAY 1: A resolution of both Houses to accept Sir Christopher Kelly’s expenses review

2. Recall power for MPs suspended for misconduct

People are rightly furious that there is nothing they can do to get rid of their MP even if they have committed the most egregious fraud on their expenses claims. We should create a power of recall so if an MP is recommended for suspension by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, 5% of constituents can petition to remove that MP from office, prompting a by-election. All of those against whom serious allegations have been made – claiming mortgage payments without having a mortgage, “flipped” their home for personal profit or avoided Capital Gains Tax – should be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

WEEK 1: Clerks to draw up Members of Parliament (Recall) Bill
All MPs who have claimed mortgage payments without having a mortgage, “flipped” their home or avoided Capital Gains Tax to be referred for investigation to Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
WEEKS 8-9: Parliament to pass Members of Parliament (Recall) Bill
WEEK 10: Commissioner to report on all MPs to Parliament; votes to be held on suspension
WEEK 11+: Petitions to begin in relevant constituencies if voters choose

3. House of Lords reform

Agreement has already been reached – MPs have voted decisively for direct elections of all peers, and agreement largely reached about the powers of the upper chamber. This must now be implemented.

The new House should be called the Senate to detach it permanently from the peerage. Elections should be on a different basis from the Commons but the need to choose a mechanism should not be an excuse for delay. The Power Commission’s recommendation that Senators be elected for three Parliamentary terms, with a third of the House elected at each General Election, should be adopted because it was decided by an independent, non-partisan and consultative process. Senators should represent a larger area than MPs: for simplicity, our suggested model is that this should be the top-up areas used in an AV+ voting system (see 6. below). A third of current peers could then be expelled at each of the next three elections, volunteers first, followed by those chosen at random but according to party balance.

WEEK 6-7: Parliament to pass enabling legislation for an elected Senate

4. Party funding reform

The relationship between money and politics is rotten and is hollowing out our whole political system. We need to remove the influence of big money from politics for good. While the Liberal Democrats want to go much further than proposed by the Hayden Phillips process, in the interests of swift action, we are willing to support the Hayden Phillips recommendations. The Conservatives pulled out of the negotiations but should either return to them or see the proposals pushed through regardless, with the addition of vital restrictions on spending in individual constituencies; on donors using dummy companies registered in Britain to channel money to political parties; and on donations from individuals who are either not resident or not domiciled in Britain for tax purposes.

Hayden Phillips’ proposals, in brief, are: donations from a single individual or organisation in any given year should be capped at £50,000. Spending by political parties (including national, regional and local branches) should be capped at £100m across the electoral cycle. Trade union affiliations to the Labour Party should continue only to the extent that individual members give genuine annual consent to their subscriptions being used in that way and should otherwise be treated in the same way as other donations.

WEEK 2: Government to table Hayden Phillips amendments to Political Parties and Elections Bill currently before the House of Lords

5. Fixed term Parliaments

It is completely wrong for the government to be able to give themselves an electoral advantage by choosing the date of the election to suit them. Fixed term Parliaments are the norm across the democratic world and should be introduced in the UK. Now is not the time for consideration, but action. Paul Tyler’s Constitutional Renewal Bill, currently before the House of Lords, would limit all further sessions of Parliament to four years, fixing the dates of all future general elections after 2010. The bill will also enact government manifesto and ministerial commitments on Freedom of Information, the power of the Attorney General, civil service reform, parliamentary scrutiny of international treaties, and public protest rights, which should also be agreed as part of this reform programme.

WEEK 3+: Parliament to pass Constitutional Renewal Bill currently before the House of Lords

6. Enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+

There is growing consensus that a new electoral system is needed in the UK. The Liberal Democrats believe the best system would be multi-member constituencies elected by Single Transferable Vote, but it is unlikely that agreement could be reached on such a system in the timescale necessary.

Roy Jenkins’ review of electoral systems in 1997 recommended the Alternative Vote + system; Labour committed in their 1997 manifesto to a referendum on this; and there are an increasing number of people, including cabinet members, supporting the move now. We therefore recommend that the Jenkins AV+ recommendation be put to the country immediately at the end of this 100 Day Reform Programme. It must not be put to the country by the government, but by Parliament as a whole; and must not be put on the day of the General Election, where the unpopularity of the government could damage the referendum.

If passed, the new electoral system should be introduced for the election subsequent to 2010, with the Electoral Commission charged with drawing up the new larger constituencies and top-up areas (for additional members and Senators) in time. The aim should be to reduce the total number of MPs by 150 and Peers by 300.

WEEKS 4-5: Parliament to pass enabling legislation for a referendum on AV+
DAY 100: Referendum to be held on new proportional election system

7. Changes to House of Commons procedure to reduce executive power

The election of a new Speaker on 22 June offers an opportunity for radical reform of the way debate and scrutiny is organised for the House of Commons. We recognise that changes within the House of Commons are only part of political reform: they alone will not renew democracy and must not be used as a smokescreen for leaving other issues untouched. However, the new Speaker will have a mandate for reform and should use that unprecedented influence to drive forward change immediately upon his/her election, with new rules in place for the new Parliamentary term that begins in October. This should address:

• Legislation: the Parliamentary timetable should be controlled by Parliament, not the government, as it is currently too easy for Ministers use the timetable to evade scrutiny of contentious or complicated legislation. Arrangements for post-legislative scrutiny should also be considered, along with greater use of “sunset clauses” to stop obsolete laws from causing problems.
• Spending: Parliament needs time to scrutinise the government’s spending programme, with the ability to amend proposals.
• Public appointments: Ministerial and high level public sector appointments should be subject to confirmation hearings in Parliament. Parliament should be able to vote Ministers and politically-appointed quango heads out of office with a super-majority of two-thirds.
• Backbench initiatives: Early Day Motions with substantial support must be given time for debate and votes and Private Members’ Bills given additional time, too. It should no longer be possible for ministers to ‘talk out’ private members’ bills.

WEEK 4: New Speaker to convene Party talks to agree changes to Commons procedure. Changes to be agreed by Day 100; implemented for the new Parliamentary Term.

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  • Whenever David Cameron mentions the benefit of FPTP, he should immediately be asked to resign in favour of Davidf Davis who “won” the FPTP bit of the election for Conservative leader:

    1st Ballot result:
    David Davis 62
    David Cameron 56
    Liam Fox 42
    Ken Clarke 38

  • Brilliant! I’m over the moon about this!

    As soon as expenses back a large scale issue I said an election is not the answer – reform is. Indeed my boiled down take on the issue (on a forum not dedicated to Politics, so necessarily lacking detail) was this:

    “So – what do we need to do then? I am very wary of calling an Election too soon, anger could make people take any number of bad decisions. Therefore I think we need to complete the following stages very, very quickly:

    – Release all expenses so we can see exactly what everyone has done
    – Have a independent body advise on changes to our system and the Prime Minister must agree to make the changes whatever they may be. These should include changing our voting system to Proportional Representation. Changing the Speaker is one part of this, and is a good start, but we must do more

    Then we must have an Election under a fair new system and start again with a new Government and Parliament. Only then can we regain trust in our Politicians and only then can they actually begin again to face the problems of the Country.”

    I’ve been dismayed by Cameron’s poor answers, and yet relatively positive press, to the problem. As I settled into bed last night in the early hours, having just finally had a chance to read the papers, I resolved to write a piece criticising Nick, for the first time in a while, on the fact that he’s not on the right path. And then he does this – some parts almost word for word taking my ideas.

    What great news for the Lib Dems, what great news for Nick, and what great news for democracy and for parliament if we can just get this through!

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '09 - 11:03am

    There will be some – I see them already appearing in the LDV comments threads – who argue that what Nick Clegg is calling for is hopelessly Utopian. I disagree.

    So do I. It’s feeble, it doesn’t really answer the question of what to do about the underlying malaise in British politics. It doesn’t link the current problem with what has been dominating the news all year up to this – the lies and rubbish we’ve had put forward to us by our REAL masters – the big money men. Until we solve this, we are just tinkering.

    Constitutional reform is good, but not enough. One of the things we must do is reconsider how we sell ourselves as a party. And that should be not as brand Clegg, but as a bottom-up organisation of people who have got together to use democracy as it should be used, because that is the way to challenge the power of money and celebrity and make the world a better place in which we all count.

  • Quite simply, brilliant. Easily the best set of policies and proposals to have come out of Cowley Street for a long, long time! And showing that it can be done over the summer simply deflates the arguments of the sceptics.

    Finally, something to shout about!

  • Andrew Suffield 28th May '09 - 1:35pm

    Most of it’s a decent idea, but I’m dubious on the AV+ bit… why on earth is that not a saner system like STV? (Or something really effective like the Schulze method?)

    I can’t approve of rushing a weird and flawed voting system in.

  • Andrew – it’s simple really. AV+ is a simpler system to introduce quickly as it has more broad based support in Westminster than STV – Labour in 1997 committed to holding a referendum on it so we’d only be holding them that. It’s not as perfect as STV, but does avoid some of the STV problems (which as a Scottish councillor I can see – like identifying with a particular MP) and is more likely to get consensus.

  • Why endorse multi-C STV?

    If we are changing the system, why not go for one which represents the proportion of votes nationwide?

  • Painfully Liberal 28th May '09 - 2:36pm

    Incidentally, any idea how the recall idea can function under AV+? Who gets to vote to recall someone elected from the list, the whole region?

  • I agree. Recall should be possible whenever a large number of people want it

  • David Allen 28th May '09 - 6:25pm

    To be fair, there is one thing that Clegg says here which genuinely strikes a chord. That is the demand that Parliament should not take a summer break until it has comprehensively dealt with the expenses scandal and its direct consequences, including the Kelly review and (perhaps) the power of recall. Nothing more. If only Clegg had stopped there, he would have played a blinder. That is what the public actually want tackled.

    Unfortunately Clegg then got plain silly. He clearly took his sermon from the Book of Genesis (you know, the one where God creates light in week one, PR in week two, and on the seventh day he resteth, etc). Perhaps Clegg subconsciously realised just how screamingly funny he was being. The idea of drafting and rushing through a brand new constitution on the Genesis scale – well, doesn’t anyone remember the Dangerous Dogs Act? That was the demonstration that you can’t rush through legislation and get it right. If we couldn’t get something simple like defining a nasty dog done quickly and correctly, how on earth does anyone suppose you could do PR and Lords reform, etc etc, on such a timescale?

  • wonderful stuff & a program progressives like make votes count & 38 degrees can unite around, lets all push it.

  • @David Allen maybe because it has been talked about for years already, unlike the dangerous dogs act

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th May '09 - 9:28pm

    AV+? Who knows or cares what that is? What member of the electorate is going to look at this website and get all fired up and think “AV+? – That’s for me!”.

    It’s an ok try, but why use technical jargon no-one outside us knows the meaning of on the front page? Even if it actually works, coming across as some magical mystery cure-all formula, because we’ve said it it’ll be tagged as what we’re all about – and it isn’t, it’s a crap system and we know it is, and we’re only calling for it because we’re too cowardly to call for the better one we really support and which gives FAR MORE power to the people than AV+.

    Look, if you want to keep the single-constituency link while having a decent PR system, you can do it with STV and here’s how:

    Have your STV multi-member constituency. Elect your multiple MPs for it by STV. But also divide your multi-member constituency into a number of parts equal to the number of MPs for the multi-member constituency. Count the number of first preference votes for each candidate separately for each of these parts – they will become the nominla single-member constituencies.

    OK, look at the shares of first preference votes for all candidates for all single-member constituencies. The one which is highest of all of them, the constituency in which it is gets given to that member. Now, repeat the process ignoribg that constituency (it now has a member) and ignoring that member (s/he has a constituency) until all members have a constituency.

    Why does AV+ have that this idea doesn’t? Two classes of MPs – ones with single member constituencies and ones without, but as that’s something which takes AV+ away from the current one-member-one-constiuency system isn’t that a drawback of AV+?

  • “maybe because it has been talked about for years already”

    Yes, but it hasn’t been agreed, even amongst reformers, let alone the nation as a whole. It hasn’t been agreed what “fair votes” means, or exactly what the thresholds etc would be for recall, or how the Lords / Senate would be elected, or how a host of boring administrative details would be made to work properly.

    If we were somehow to get a rushed, bodged job of reform into place, Cameron would launch a crusade to scrap it again.

    We need a constitutional convention that can reach a consensus. That way, we won’t get the full reform agenda, but we will get some of it, and what we get will last.

    The way we’re going, we’ll get nothing.

  • So no plans to repay the £2.4 million then Nick?
    Put your money where your mouth is.
    As for PR, I don’t think that changing the system of election will change human nature. There are bent hypocritical politicians found in any country with PR.

  • Paul Griffiths 29th May '09 - 7:32am

    Old Hack: So, no plans for you to explain why Michael Brown shouldn’t have to repay the £2.4 million?

  • My proposal for changing the system for the Commons is STV in single constituencies plus a second party vote which is used to decide how to weight votes in the Commons. Thus, the value of one MP can have more value than another and overall voting to representative of the vote share in the country.

    I also want the ability to recall MPs if a sufficient number want it. Plus the ability to get a general election if a sufficient number want it.

    I am interested in an elected Senate but one good feature of the current system is that Lords can be independent and challenge bad legislation. I remember the tussle in 2005 over the control orders legislation.

  • I agree that human nature is a factor but with effort and careful designing of systems, one can compensate to a certain degree.

    In science, we look for independent confirmation of new results but admitting a new result to the body of established knowledge.

  • uugh. typo. “before admitting”

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