Cameron outbids Labour on Brown’s own territory – constitutional reform

I believe the central objective of the new politics we need should be a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power: from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities; from the EU to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy. Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we must take power from the elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street” With this rhetorical fanfare, David Cameron dramatically ups the stakes in a bigger and bigger game of Reform poker. Following on from open primaries for candidates, Cameron easily trumps Labour plays for electoral reform and parliamentary procedure from Alan Johnson and Ed Miliband. And to think, all this was Gordon Brown’s baby! It was cheeky of Cameron to chose the New Politics site in the Guardian to lay out what he calls “Our philosophy of progressive Conservatism” in a draft speech so long it requires four separate posts. The Tory leader is gambling that political reform, once the dullest of subjects, has now clicked with voters and will help him win the election. How might these ideas be adapted for politics in Northern Ireland ? If you’ve got time to digest them, surely not a bad theme for Picamp? Details below

Cameron says a Tory government would:

• 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.

Links to detailed briefs
Power to councils
Instead of central government targets and controls to make sure councils spend money wisely, we’ll simply require councils to publish online details of all their spending over £25,000, and to get approval for any excessive tax increases in a local referendum.

A Conservative government will seriously consider the option of fixed-term parliaments when there’s a majority government. But it’s also why a Conservative government will not consider introducing proportional representation,

It’s going to be quite a website

The way bills are published online today is stifling innovation and blocking democratic engagement. So a Conservative government will publish all parliamentary information online in an open-source format. This will help people easily access bills and other legislation in order to create useful applications, like text alerts when something you’re interested in is debated. And it will mean many more expert eyes helping to explain laws as they’re formed, flagging up flaws and suggestions for improvement. Anything that acts as a barrier between politics and the public has got to be torn down – including the ridiculous ban on parliamentary proceedings being uploaded to YouTube.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London