Hand over Some Power to the People ; EDITORIAL & OPINION

By Kennedy, Helena | The Independent (London, England), January 23, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Hand over Some Power to the People ; EDITORIAL & OPINION


Kennedy, Helena, The Independent (London, England)


Despite being the world's oldest democracy, the UK has never had a revolution - no great rising of the people demanding the overthrow of the established order. Our history shows complex struggles for the rule of law and democracy rather than a great constitutional moment. We pride ourselves on our relatively peaceful transition from aristocratic oligarchy to liberal democracy starting with the Magna Carta.

I've battled with government about civil liberties and know that liberty is sustained or diminished through the way political and institutions manage power. Worryingly, 76 per cent of us believe our vote makes little or no difference to Westminster's decisions. Once people stop being engaged, there are real questions about democratic legitimacy and whether governments have a mandate to do radical things; think ID cards, which fundamentally change the relationship between citizen and state, creating new paradigms of state power.

Those with power rarely want to give it away and politicians make great arguments for minimalist change. But why should they decide the rules?

Polling conducted for the Power Inquiry into Britain's democracy which I chaired, shows 70 per cent of voters want more power in setting democratic rules. There is a deeply-rooted crisis of trust and disengagement from parliamentary democracy as we come to the end of Blair's era. To win the next election, politicians of all hues are talking about restoring trust and hinting at reforms of parliament, bills of rights and a radical decentralisation of power - double devolution. We could be facing a new constitutional moment in our history - when the way power is managed is opened up for contest. The question is, in whose interests and by what principles will it be shaped?

We have been here before. Before the 1997 election, New Labour promised a different political settlement. There have been achievements: devolution, a partly-reformed House of Lords, a Judicial Appointments Commission, Human Rights Act, and Freedom of Information but without a written constitution even Parliament's contribution was held in the Prime Minister's tight grasp. There has been plenty of modernisation but little democratisation. The UK is unique in western nations in giving one party control of government and the popular assembly based on a minority of the vote at elections. So how do we hold government to account?

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