In focus: Better Politics Policy Commission

7th March, 2014 2:36 pm

By Johanna Baxter and Sadiq Khan MP

When the Tory-led Government came to power in 2010, they promised a fresh start and a different kind of politics. But instead of opening up politics, they have closed it down. Instead of reaching out, they have appealed only to narrow sectional interests. And whenever they’ve been given an opportunity to rebuild trust and restore faith in our democracy, they’ve taken the side of the powerful, rather than the people.

The British people deserve better.  That’s why we’ve been at the forefront of our Party’s attempts to build a different kind of politics – one that’s rooted in every community across the country and reaches out to people in every walk of life.

In drafting our final year policy paper, we’ve taken the work of the Better Politics Policy Commission to every region of the UK, seeking views from party members and taking evidence from experts like the Hansard Society and Bite the Ballot.

When our Annual Conference tasked us to look at the involvement of young people in politics we talked to young members and representatives of the British Youth Council.  We’re delighted that our recommendation to lower the voting age to 16 quickly got the support of Ed Miliband.  But we know that we need to go further than that, which is why we’re also calling for better quality citizenship education in schools and increased volunteering and mentoring opportunities for young people outside of school to encourage democratic participation and involvement in civil society.

We know that to build a political system that commands the trust of people across the generations we need to ensure that power is distributed fairly and people have genuine influence over the decisions that affect their lives.

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That’s why our commission proposes a universal register of all professional lobbyists with a code of conduct backed by sanctions, a cap on individual donations to political parties to take the big money out of politics, strengthening the third sector and increasing the transparency and accountability of our public sector by extending Freedom of Information to cover the delivery of public services by private companies.

But we know our systems of government have to change too.  Because it cannot be acceptable in this day and age that people, struggling with a cost of living crisis, no longer believe politics can provide the answer to their problems.  If we’re not careful that will be the epitaph of our time – that people stopped believing politics could change their lives for the better.

The state must be there for people in need, to ensure no one is left out or left alone. But we need a different sort of state and a very different way of governing.

This means spreading power out to people and places, not hoarding it in Whitehall or allowing it to be concentrated in the hands of elites. It means standing up to markets when they dominate and disempower communities. And it means nurturing institutions and spaces where people can come together to solve their problems.

That is why we want to create a new deal for local communities across the country; giving them a real say in the decisions that affect the day-to-day lives of those who live there.   Local government has a great history of doing precisely that, revolutionising the lives of people in the 19th century.  And since politics is all about the choices we make, we should recognise that Labour councils are already showing that they are making different choices to protect their communities and ensure fairness.

There is a huge well of talent, ability, ideas and passion in every community and that’s why we believe that devolution is the best way to unleash those. Labour will give councils more powers to improve their high streets, stop the spread of payday lenders and decide whether they want high stake gambling machines in their community.

We will also make sure the public know MPs are working for – and accountable to – them. So we’re pleased to back Ed Miliband’s reforms limiting Labour MPs outside earnings and second jobs and the proposed new rules on conflicts of interests. We will strengthen the ability of MPs to hold the government to account, ensure the public have a real voice on legislation that affects them and further the stalled reform of the House of Lords.

In a year when the very fabric of our nation could be torn apart, working with our colleagues on the Scottish Executive Committee, we commit to examining further reform of the devolved settlements across the UK.  We know what our predecessors knew – that the people of Glasgow or Dundee have as much in common with the people of Liverpool or Newcastle as they do with the people of Inverness or Aberdeen – and the best way to achieve the best deal for people is to work together, that we’re better together.

In the One Nation that Labour will create we’re determined that nobody should be left behind, and that everyone shares fairly in the recovery. We will work to ensure everyone can lead fulfilling lives that are free from discrimination of any kind.  We are determined to build on our proud history of fighting discrimination, disadvantage, and racism.  Ours is the party of equality, and we must continue to build on the progress we made in government to tackle discrimination wherever it rears its head. This will include action on provisions of the Equality Act currently not activated, and an Equality and Human Rights Commission able to once again fulfil its functions.

Help us create a Better Politics by sending your ideas to us here – we’ll make sure they’re considered by our commission before we go the full meeting of the National Policy Forum in July.

Johanna Baxter is a member of Labour’s NEC. Sadiq Khan is the Shadow Justice Secretary. The Better Politics Policy Paper can be read here.

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