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Labour called ‘hesitant’ on reform that would give Wales ‘constitutional independence’

02 Feb 2021 6 minutes Read
Westminster. Picture by Maurice (CC BY 2.0) The Senedd building. Holyrrod by Kim Traynor (CC BY-SA 3.0). Stormont by Robert Paul Young (CC BY 2.0).

The Labour Party has been branded “too hesitant” when it come to reform of the union that would give Wales “constitutional independence”.

Neal Lawson, Director of the cross-party Compass think tank has responded to a report called Remaking the British State and has described Labour’s thinking as “piecemeal”.

The lengthy document was commissioned by former Labour leader Corbyn and calls for devolving more power across the UK.

Compass joins a chorus of voices, which include the Electoral Reform Society, the trade-union linked Politics for the Many campaign. and Open Labour, in urging the Labour Party to commit to key principles for reform in the report, including proportional representation.

It suggests reorganising the UK into federal state, overseen by a new “council of the union”, which replaces the House of Lords with an elected senate, alongside substantial new financial and policy powers for Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.

The 234-page report, which was over two years in the making overseen by the Labour peer Pauline Bryan, proposes UK-wide constitutional convention bolstered by citizens’ assemblies to investigate options for reform, as well as a written constitution that would greatly reduce the monarch’s powers.

It also recommends replacing the House of Lords with a federal senate of the nations and English regions, able to veto some legislation and ratify international treaties, as well as giving the Senedd, Scottish parliament, and Northern Irish executive permanent constitutional independence.

Neal Lawson, Director of the cross-party Compass think tank said: “At last new democracy thinking is starting to emerge from Labour.

“It’s still too hesitant and piecemeal and critically a full-blown commitment to PR now isn’t there yet – but the floodgates are starting to open.

“The only way Labour wins and governs again is to trust the people. This has to be the start of Labour’s cultural shift to pluralism and politics of alliances and negotiation.”

‘London-dominated’ 

Willie Sullivan, Senior Director at the non-partisan Electoral Reform Society, said: “Politics in the UK too often feels like a London-dominated private member’s club, with citizens locked out.

“We welcome a debate in Labour and across parties on what can be done to empower the public and bolster our democracy.

“From an unelected House of Lords, to the fact that most votes go ignored each election, there is much that needs to be done to revitalise our politics and give everyone a real say. That means all parties need to get serious about the corrosive crisis of trust in our politics.

“Now is the time to seize the mantle of reform, to be brave and to commit to giving power away. The potential benefits for the whole country can’t be understated.

“Voters want Westminster to be brought into the 21st century – parties, the public and civil society must come together to finally achieve that.”

Kieron O’Neill, co-chair of Open Labour, said: “It’s good this report is seeing the light of day. Labour has to go into next election offering an overhaul of how we do politics.

“The report is encouraging, but it is only the first step – this is part of wider discussion of the movement about how we’re going to take power out of Westminster and Whitehall.

“There has to be a senate of the nations and regions elected by proportional representation, and we need to the change voting system, for a House of Commons elected by PR.

“An obvious next step is the party adopting policy at conference in favour of proportional representation and changing the voting system. The movement needs to come together and agree programme of reform, then offer it to people at the next election. That’s the only way to win.

“Open Labour has always argued for serious democratic and constitutional reform. We have to stop being afraid of being bold on the reform this country needs. This report can’t gather dust. It’s time to get serious about making this change.”

‘Westminster isn’t working’ 

Nancy Platts, coordinator of the trade-union linked Politics for the Many campaign said: “This is a really important contribution to the debate on Britain’s constitutional future. It’s clear that Westminster isn’t working, with politics super-centralised.

“Voters feel powerless and locked out, unheard not just between elections but often at the ballot box too.

“The whole Labour movement should look at these proposals on how to move power out of the centre through a proportionally-elected Senate of the Nations, and with a clear principle that Commons seats should match how people actually vote.

“Politics in the UK too often feels like a London-dominated private member’s club, with an over-powerful executive and warped representation in Parliament.

“We need to drag Parliament into the 21st century, with a debate both in Labour and across the country on what democracy should look like. If we were starting from scratch, it certainly wouldn’t look like how Westminster works now.”

“Labour’s constitutional commission is a starting point, but there are major issues that look like they will remain unaddressed by that process. These changes go beyond left and right.

“The whole movement should look at this new roadmap for change, to set out the principles that will guide Labour into the next election. It’s time to get serious about the practical political reforms which have the potential to truly level up the UK – and unify the labour movement.”

Tessa Milligan, Co-Chair of Open Labour, added: “We need radical reforms to renew our democracy and give a further boost to devolution.

“If the Covid pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we should give more power to local communities rather than the highly centralised executive powers of the Westminster government.

“We need a modernised devolution settlement and an overhaul of our ancient ways of electing government. That’s the only way to truly renew, rebuild and strengthen the UK and Labour should be the party to lead that drive.”

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