David Cameron will tomorrow set out a series of pledges for reforming Parliament in the wake of the expenses scandal.
Cameron uses an article in the Guardian today to go over some of those proposals, and says there should be a “massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power…through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we must take power away from the political elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street.”
Of course, the article is incredibly vague, and the language of “Want change? Vote Conservative” and “Progressive Conservatism” will always contradictory. But you have to wonder why Labour are not leading on this matter, and on the educational reform that Cameron lightly touches on in his article.
Education and constitutional reform should be comfortable ground for the Labour Party, but instead Cameron is being given the freedom to – whisper it – lead (or at least give the appearance of leadership) on matters of supreme importance to the electorate.
Some of his other proposals in the speech will include:
• Limit the power of the prime minister by giving serious consideration to introducing fixed-term parliaments, ending the right of Downing Street to control the timing of general elections.
• End the “pliant” role of parliament by giving MPs free votes during the consideration of bills at committee stage. MPs would also be handed the crucial power of deciding the timetable of bills.
• Boost the power of backbench MPs – and limit the powers of the executive – by allowing MPs to choose the chairs and members of Commons select committees.
• Open up the legislative process to outsiders by sending out text alerts on the progress of parliamentary bills and by posting proceedings on YouTube.
• Curb the power of the executive by limiting the use of the royal prerogative which allows the prime minister, in the name of the monarch, to make major decisions. Gordon Brown is making sweeping changes in this area in the constitutional renewal bill, but Cameron says he would go further.
• Publish the expenses claims of all public servants earning more than £150,000.
• Strengthen local government by giving councils the power of “competence”. This would allow councils to reverse Whitehall decisions to close popular services, such as a local post office or a railway station, by giving them the power to raise money to keep them open.
Labour must now grasp the nettle and begin to act on reform, or risk passing the initiative to the Conservatives, on what is certain to be a key issue in the forthcoming general election.