What Nick said to Gordon about political reform

At 12.30 pm today, Gordon Brown stood up in the House of Commons to make what was billed as a “wide-ranging statement on proposed changes to Britain’s constitution and voting system.” As so often, the feature didn’t match up to the trailer. Here’s Nick Clegg’s response, as recorded by Hansard, to Mr Brown’s statement:

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement. Of course everyone agrees that the political crisis requires big changes in the way we do things, so I welcome this deathbed conversion to political reform from the man who has blocked change at almost every opportunity for the last 12 years. Everyone knows that the Labour party will lose the next general election, so any reforms must be in place before the election if they are to mean anything at all. Anything else would be a betrayal of the British people, who are angry and demanding that we change for good the rotten way we do politics. Does the Prime Minister not see that this is no time for more committees, more reviews and more consultation? We have been debating these issues for decades; is it not now time to get things done?

I strongly welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to moving towards an elected House of Lords, but will he give us a date by which this reform will be complete? We have already voted on it in this place; there should be no more delay. I also strongly welcome the move towards a Parliamentary Standards Authority and an MPs’ code of conduct. These changes should be implemented immediately with no more delay, so will the Prime Minister ask this House to forgo its summer recess so that we can push through all the necessary changes to clean up politics, and will he make sure that his immediate proposals include the right for people to sack their MP if it has been shown that they have done something seriously wrong?

I am dismayed that the Prime Minister is completely silent on the issue of party funding. How on earth can he possibly justify that? We cannot allow our politics to go the way of America’s, where elections have become a contest of advertising budgets, not ideas. Why delay when he could just implement the Hayden Phillips recommendations in the party funding Bill that is already being debated in another place? The way forward has been agreed; why does he refuse to act?

On electoral reform, I welcome any movement away from our discredited system: a system that gives the Prime Minister’s Government untrammelled power when only one in five people voted for them; a system that MPs safe seats for life. [Interruption.] That’s why they like it. As Robin Cook recognised, and as the Prime Minister’s new Home Secretary realises—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. You must be quiet Mr. Kawczynski; that is something you have got to do. [Interruption.] I know it is difficult for you, but try to be quiet.

Mr. Clegg: As Robin Cook recognised, and as the Prime Minister’s new Home Secretary realises, this cannot go on. So why is the Prime Minister seeking to restart a general debate on electoral reform? We have had the debate: we had Roy Jenkins’s report and the independent Power inquiry. We cannot afford to wait for a cross-party consensus because the Conservatives will never want to change this cosy Westminster stitch-up. We do not need to wait for the Cabinet to make up its mind; it is not up to it to decide how our democracy works. People should now be given a say, so will the Prime Minister now call a referendum this autumn to give people a choice—a choice between the bankrupt system we have now and serious proposals for reform which finally put the people in charge, not politicians? The Prime Minister has nothing to lose. This is no time for his trademark timidity. Just get on with it. Will he now cancel the recess, pass the legislation we need, and give people the say we deserve?

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