Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Cameron thinks he can get a whopper

It’s interesting that political reform has taken centre stage in the first day of campaigning proper. On Channel 4 News interview last night the Prime Minister outlined his campaign pledge for constitutional reform including a referendum, within the first year of a new Parliament, on our current voting system along with reform of the House of Lords. He also outlined plans for the right of recall of Members of Parliament by their constituents and a new way of dealing with failing hospitals and police forces – namely having one of their peer hospitals or neighbouring police forces take them over.

Not to be outdone, the Tories have come up with their own ideas, including elected police commissioners and plenty of references to localism. William Hague on the BBC this morning was talking about the madness of having local health practitioners unable to implement without the heavy hand of the Department of Health on their shoulder.

I personally remember speaking to the Director of Public Health for one of our major cities only a few months ago during the height of the swine flu hysteria, who was complaining that she was not allowed to even send out a press release without it being cleared by the Department of Health first. What is the point you ask in having highly paid local representatives if they have no power?

The LibDems? Well as ever they have very pragmatic ideas about local representation, but then you can when you aren't likely to be elected under this current system.

There’s much to welcome in all of these ideas. An unelected House of Lords remains an anachronism in the modern world and many would rejoice at the idea of a fairer more balanced voting system. Equally a return of genuine power to local authorities and local representatives would improve accountability and presumably reduce public sector expenditure when we get rid of those centrally who do nothing more than shadow other people’s jobs.

However, my concern is that, once re-elected or in power, most Governments lose all interest in this type of reform. The drift of political power to Westminster, at the expense of local councils, health providers, planners etal has been going on for more than thirty years since Margaret Thatcher’s heyday and no political party, of whatever colour, has attempted to turn back the clock.

Equally, voting reform is often embraced by Opposition parties worried that they won’t be able to command a majority, only to be ditched when they get a whopper. Blair, for example, flirted with reform of the voting system, he even got the late Roy Jenkins to write a huge report on the subject and then quietly forgot it when he got a huge majority in ‘97.

My own view is that our politicians won’t be able to pull that trick this time. If they promise something, they are probably going to have to deliver it or have a very good excuse. Public cynicism with our political system will not stand for this type of self-interest any more. This probably accounts for why the opinion polls are so close and why Cameron won’t commit to voting reform. He secretly still thinks he might get a whopper or at least enough seats to see him through a full term.


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