UK scandal brings flowering of reform ideas


Following the recent scandal in the UK, some senior figures in the Labour government have used the opportunity to push ahead with major democratic reforms:

An intense cabinet-level debate is under way on the format of this initiative, its timescale and the range of issues that would be discussed. The enthusiasts for wider reform include Harriet Harman, leader of the Commons, James Purnell, the work and pensions secretary, and David Miliband, the foreign secretary.

The discussions were launched inside the cabinet by the business secretary, Lord Mandelson, when he raised the idea of a British constitutional convention on the model of the Scottish constitutional convention.

What the modernisers inside the ­cabinet want on the agenda is:

• A referendum on electoral reform for the House of Commons.

• An elected upper house.

• Spending caps on donations to political parties.

• A widening of the base from which candidates are drawn.

It is a fascinating idea that the UK could finally move on such major democratic deficits as the first-past-the-post electoral system in the House of Commons and the continued existence of the appointed House of Lords.

Indeed, the Guardian today has launched a Comment is Free series packed full of opinion pieces from their journalists proposing dramatic changes to British democracy, from reducing the number of MPs to an elected upper house, proportional representation in the House of Commons, directly-elected mayors and the abolition of the monarchy. You can register as a user and join in the debate.

It would be fascinating to have such a debate in Australia. Part of me thinks that, even if we aren’t in a position to do it on a national level, it’s plausible we could see a constitutional convention take place in New South Wales. Indeed, after I tweeted this afternoon about the debate within the British government over reforms, I got this response from the man who will likely be the next Premier of New South Wales:


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  1. Sounds great. It is exactly the kind of conversation we need in Australia. However the inherent conservatism of most Australians as well as populist politicians who spout such lines as ‘there are more important things to worry about’ mean this will not happen for a loong time.

    Vote with your feet, I say.

  2. I don’t agree that Australians are any more conservative or populist than other western english-speaking countries like Canada, the UK and New Zealand where debates about proportional representation have gotten further.

    It’s just that the UK is in a crisis at the moment.

  3. @Ben Raue

    Australia’s lack of water means that it hasn’t been able to sustain large-scale immigration like the United States. Without this influx of new ideas and multicultural diversity, there seems to be an underlying conservatism. Australians reject referenda some large percentage of the time. The Cronulla riots were an example of the explosion of the culture’s underlying racism.

    The legacy of the convict past lives on through cultural mores like the so-called “Tall Poppy Syndrome,” as evident as ever.

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