Quick fix political reform will come a cropper – go for policy

Hear the voice of deep New Labour disillusion from James Purnell, the only cabinet quitter who told Gordon Brown straight he ought to resign.

” New Labour became “too small-c conservative” on schools policy and didn’t make the case for immigration. It was terrified of swing voters, but should put electoral reform to a referendum at the next election.

. But Purnell’s decent hopes are fated to be dashed all over again if he starts with sweeping constitutional reform. It simply take too long and will never capture public imagination.

Not that Purnell is alone. Andreas Whittam Smith founder of the Indy has adopted seven suggestions for delivering change from the lobby group Open Democracy . . The next election is a maximum of 10 months away, remember. None of them will deliver a quick hit. (Contrast the Constitution Unit’s proposals for realistic political reform.)
Take a single issue like electoral reform and demand a referendum on it at the same time as the election, as the key issue that will open up change. This is the approach of “Vote for Change”
1. Generate basic pledges for change that are then taken to all candidates to create a reforming Parliament.
2. Meet, deliberate, hold a convention, decide, influence, elect and hold to account, starting with 1,000 meetings in pubs or living rooms around the UK, or as part of discussions in existing networks. This is the original “Real Change” proposal.

3. Get Parliament to pass an Act empowering a citizen’s deliberative convention to decide on a set of major reforms. A Bill to do this has been written by “Unlock Democracy”.
5. Launch a campaign to “Take back our Parliament”. This would focus on how it represents us (proportionality, open primaries), its honesty (transparency), defending our liberties (independence) and its funding (no corruption).

6. Bring about a network of independent candidates committed to implementing a reform agenda.

7. Organise an online force for change on the lines of MoveOn in the US. This is the approach adopted by the campaign group 38 Degrees..
What is the referendum question please? On what basis are people supposed to decide on a new electoral system? And where is the mass movement out there willing and able to overwhelm the party system in a few months? Where is the SDP of our day? The best hope of change is create the leverage that a hung parliament would bring. This was the fond hope of 1997. But nobody can plan it. That’s in the hands of the voters – no bad thing.
Meanwhile Purnell becomes more interesting when he touches on policy.

Advice for Brown in advance of an election? To pledge universal childcare and a guaranteed job for every person out of work after one year.”

A decent debate to rise to the level of events might just capture people’s imagination and raise their hopes.

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