Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Bishop Baines's Five Points


Towards the end of his Harold Wilson Memorial Lecture (referred to in the previous post and which can be reached from here) Bishop Nick Baines argues that, whatever the outcome of Brexit, the controversy has exposed five areas in which we need to to take action.  We need:

  1. A codified constitution.
  2. A more representative electoral system.
  3. Rules for referendums.
  4. Rules for devolution to, and the powers of,  the parliament and assemblies in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
  5. A redesign of the chambers in the Palace of Westminster to reflect our changed political makeup. 
Baines does not go into detail on these proposals.  My own comments are:

1.  Yes, Britain's famous "unwritten " constitution is now open to abuse.  It depended on a sense of fair play, a common purpose, and that all would observes established conventions.  The current threat to prorogue parliament in order to allow the executive (under Johnson?) to get its way is perhaps the most glaring example of abuse.

At the same time, as was pointed out in a recent article in Prospect, we need to be careful not to "set in stone" rules and procedures which are relevant  only to today's circumstances.   The US, for example, is lumbered with the "right to bear arms" and an electoral college which allowed Trump to become president even though Mrs Clinton had  thee million more votes, just because they are in their (now semi-sacred) Constitution or its Amendments.

2.  Yes indeed, preferably proportional representation by single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies.  This is the system which confers maximum power to the voters, reduces the powers of the parties but avoids fragmentation by ensuring that parties have a significant, even if modest, level of support if they are to achieve representation.

3.  If we are to have more referendums.  Now that they have been introduced they will be difficult to get rid of.  We need to define the circumstances and issues in which they can be used, with provisions for safeguards in the veracity of the campaigning, the right to vote and the size of the majorities necessary for change.

4.  The powers  of the devolved administrations should be defined and safeguarded in law, as should the powers of local government, and regional governments in England when we get them.

5. The adversarial bear-pit of the Commons chamber should be replaced by one which reflects  the diverse opinions of the electorate and promotes "quiet calm deliberation" rather than knockabout  abuse.

When will the electorate be ready to tackle these issues?  Which political party will be brave enough to campaign on them?

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