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Monday, September 03, 2007

Gordon Brown on a new type of politics

I do believe that Britain needs a new type of politics which embraces everyone in the nation and not just a select few, a politics that is built on consensus and not division, a politics that is built on engaging with people and not excluding them, and perhaps most of all a politics that draws upon the widest range of talents and expertise, not narrow circles of power.

Speech to the National Council of Voluntary Organisationson politics - Gordon Brown

With the beginning of September, the political season has begun.  The Prime Minister kicked it off today with a speech calling for a new way of doing politics.

Gordon Brown identifies three failings of our political system.  The parties themselves 'have not reached out enough to people'; 'the political system too often ignores or neglects new ideas that flow from outside Westminster and often in the past have failed to listen and learn'; and 'our participatory democracy is too weak at a local level so we have to rise to the new challenge of encouraging engagement'.

The speech contained some interesting proposals.  One is to launch a series of Citizens' Juries around the country, and with one eventually in every constituency.  The first will discuss issues related to children.  The second will examine crime and communities.  There will be nine such juries meeting simultaneously on the NHS.

In addition, there will be a Citizens' Summit, composed of a respresentative sample of the British public.  Its purpose will be to formulate the British statement of values proposed in the Green Paper on the government of Britain.  Alongside this will be a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities.

A number of new 'standing commissions' will examine long term issues such as the role of carers, security (with Patrick Mercer MP, Conservative), children with speech, learning and communication needs (with John Bercow MP, Conservative), and land use and planning in support of sustainable rural communities (with Matthew Taylor MP, Liberal Democrat).

Finally, a Speaker's Conference is proposed to bring the parties together to examine the decline in voter turnout and other electoral issues.

This is all pretty meaty stuff.  I welcome the steps taken to address the issue of public participation in our democracy.  There are three areas in particular where some work is required.

The first is the role of Citizens' Juries - how will they be selected and how should we regard their deliberations and conclusions?

I propose that selection should be on similar lines to court juries, with participation voluntary (but perhaps linked to a tax credit to persuade those who feel they have little time to spare).  The deliberations should be available after they have finished along with their conclusions.

Second, we really need to crack this issue of encouraging local democracy at the very local level.  Being on the Left I'm tempted to try to propose some sort of model.  But the answer is going to be found in what is happening and working now - the issue will be how to plug the majority of 'middle England' into the life of local communities.  I suspect the internet will have a developing role here.

Third, we need to work on how to integrate the Labour Party at all levels into any such emerging politics.  We need to do this bearing in mind that our Party consists of many dedicated activists already working very hard to promote Labour values - so we need to find a way of evolving without beating ourselves up to do just more and more.

1 comment:

Peter Kenyon said...

I thought this process of local engagement was to be be fired by Labour Party Local Policy Forums. At least that's what I understood from GB's paper Extending and renewing party democracy presented to the NEC as a fait accompli on 24 June. I plead guilty to drawing attention to the resource implications. I suspect Citizens' Juries will be funded by the taxpayer.