Nick Clegg’s speech on political reform: full transcript

In his first major speech as Deputy Prime Minister, Clegg announces the most significant shake-up si

Nick Clegg, 11am, Wednesday 19 May 2010.

I have spent my whole political life fighting to open up politics. So let me make one thing very clear: this government is going to be unlike any other.

This government is going to transform our politics so the state has far less control over you, and you have far more control over the state.

This government is going to break up concentrations of power and hand power back to people, because that is how we build a society that is fair.

This government is going to persuade you to put your faith in politics once again.

I'm not talking about a few new rules for MPs; not the odd gesture or gimmick to make you feel a bit more involved.

I'm talking about the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great enfranchisement of the 19th century.

The biggest shake-up of our democracy since 1832, when the Great Reform Act redrew the boundaries of British democracy, for the first time extending the franchise beyond the landed classes.

Landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swaths of the population remained helpless against vested interests.

Who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.

A spirit this government will draw on as we deliver our programme for political reform: a power revolution.

A fundamental resettlement of the relationship between state and citizen that puts you in charge.

So, no, incremental change will not do.

It is time for a wholesale, big-bang approach to political reform.

That's what this government will deliver.

It is outrageous that decent, law-abiding people are regularly treated as if they have something to hide.

It has to stop.

So there will be no ID card scheme.

No national identity register, no second-generation biometric passports.

We won't hold your internet and email records when there is no just reason to do so.

CCTV will be properly regulated, as will the DNA database, with restrictions on the storage of innocent people's DNA.

And we will end practices that risk making Britain a place where our children grow up so used to their liberty being infringed that they accept it without question.

There will be no ContactPoint children's database.

Schools will not take children's fingerprints without even asking their parent's consent.

This will be a government that is proud when British citizens stand up against illegitimate advances of the state.

That values debate, that is unafraid of dissent.

That's why we'll remove limits on the rights to peaceful protest.

It's why we'll review libel laws so that we can better protect freedom of speech.

And as we tear through the statute book, we'll do something no government ever has:

We will ask you which laws you think should go.

Because thousands of criminal offences were created under the previous government . . .

Taking people's freedom away didn't make our streets safe.

Obsessive lawmaking simply makes criminals out of ordinary people.

So, we'll get rid of the unnecessary laws, and once they're gone, they won't come back.

We will introduce a mechanism to block pointless new criminal offences.

And we will, of course, introduce safeguards to prevent the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.

There have been too many cases of individuals being denied their rights . . .

And whole communities being placed under suspicion.

This government will do better by British justice.

Respecting great, British freedoms . . .

Which is why we'll also defend trial by jury.

Second, reform of our politics.

Reform to reduce the power of political elites . . .

And to drag Westminster into the 21st century.

Starting with the House of Lords.

Did you know we've been talking about reforming the House of Lords for over a hundred and fifty years?

It's one of the areas where all the parties agree.

The time for talk is over.

This government will replace the House of Lords with an elected second chamber . . .

Where members are elected by a proportional voting system.

There will be a committee charged specifically with making this happen . . .

But make no mistake: that committee will not be yet another government talking shop.

This will be a dedicated group devoted to kick-starting real reform.

The same haste will be applied to fixed-term parliaments.

It's just wrong that governments can play politics with something as important as a general election . . .

Cynically picking the date to maximise their own advantage.

So this government has already set the date we think the next election should be:

May 7th 2015 -- no matter who is where in the polls.

That is, unless parliament votes to dissolve itself first.

As we legislate to fix parliamentary terms the details will of course need to be worked out . . .

But we believe that the support of 55 per cent of MPs or more should be required for parliament to opt for an early dissolution.

That is a much lower threshold than the two-thirds required in the Scottish Parliament.

But it strikes the right balance for our parliament: maintaining stability, stopping parties from forcing a dissolution to serve their own interests.

Former Labour ministers who were once perfectly happy to ride roughshod over our democracy and are now declaring this innovation some sort of outrage are completely missing the point:

This is a new right for parliament, additional to the existing powers of no confidence.

We're not taking away parliament's right to throw out government; we're taking away government's right to throw out parliament.

Parliament's power will be strengthened as we bring forward the proposals of the Wright committee, put forward in November.

Starting with provisions to give MPs much more control over Commons business.

And, in addition to strengthening parliament, we will of course make sure we've cleaned it up.

Which is why I have already commissioned work on introducing the power of recall.

If your MP is corrupt, you will be able to sack them.

You will need the support of 10 per cent of people living in the constituency . . .

And your MP will have had to have been found guilty of serious wrongdoing . . .

But it happens in Switzerland, in Canada, in 18 US states . . .

And it's going to happen here.

We will regulate lobbying in parliament.

Not all lobbying is sleazy.

Much of it serves a hugely important function, allowing different organisations and interests to make representations to politicians.

But let's get real: this is a £2bn industry where, according to some estimates, there are MPs who are approached by lobbyists a hundred times every week . . .

And that activity needs to be regulated properly and made transparent.

Which we'll do, for example, by introducing a statutory register of lobbyists.

As long as money plays such a big part in our politics, we are never going to curtail the tyranny of vested interests.

That's why David Cameron and I are determined to reform party funding.

All of the parties have had their problems . . .

And governments have been stopping and starting on this issue for years.

But so long as big money continues to hollow out our democracy . . .

Everybody loses.

So we will pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to deal with this once and for all.

And we'll act to tackle electoral fraud, too, speeding up the implementation of individual voter registration.

There is, however, no programme to reform our political system that is complete without reform of our voting system.

This government will be putting to you, in a referendum, the choice to introduce a new voting system, called the Alternative Vote.

Under that new system, far more MPs will have to secure support from at least half the people who vote in their constituency . . .

And, hand in hand with that change, there will be new constituency boundaries, reducing the number of MPs overall and creating constituencies that are more equal in size.

David Cameron and I are very relaxed about the fact we may be arguing different cases in that referendum.

But my position is clear: the current voting system, first-past-the-post, is a major block to lasting political change.

According to some estimates, over half the seats in the Commons are "safe" . . . giving hundreds of MPs jobs for life . . . meaning that millions of people see their votes go to waste.

Is it any surprise that, with a system like that, we end up with politicians who are seen to be out of touch with the people they serve?

New politics needs fairer votes.

This referendum will be our opportunity to start to make that happen.

The third, and final step, is the redistribution of power away from the centre.

It's something the Prime Minister spoke about yesterday, and it is something we strongly believe. All politicians say they want to give people more control over their lives.

This government is going to make it happen.

In fact, if there is one area where the differences between Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are almost impossible to spot, it's here.

We don't, unlike Labour, believe that change in our society must be forced from the centre.

Unlike the previous Labour government, we're not insecure about relinquishing control.

So rest assured, you will get more control over the hospitals you use; the schools you send your children to; the homes that are built in your community.

In our legislative programme we will be setting out plans to strip away government's unelected, inefficient quangos, plans to loosen the centralised grip of the Whitehall bureaucracy, plans to disperse power downwards to you instead.

And we are serious about giving councils much more power over the money they use, so they depend less on the whims of Whitehall, and can deliver the services and support their communities need.

We know that devolution of power is meaningless without money.

Our plans to disperse power also include strengthening devolution to other parts of Britain:

Working with Holyrood to implement the recommendations of the Calman commission . . .

Working with the Welsh Assembly on introducing a referendum on the transfer of further powers to Wales . . .

Supporting the continued success of the devolved government in Northern Ireland.

And, of course, asking what we can do about the difficult issues surrounding the West Lothian Question.

So, the repeal of illiberal laws, the reform of politics, and the redistribution of power.

Our very own Great Reform Act.

Not everyone will like it.

Not every MP . . .

Not the vested interests that want government to stay closed, opaque, easily captured.

But this new government, this new kind of government, creates an enormous opportunity for those of us who have spent our lives fighting for political reform.

This is a moment to step back and look at every shortcoming in our democracy . . .

Before we launch into the most radical programme of reform, empowerment, enfranchisement in over a century.

A programme so important to me personally that I will take full responsibility for seeing it through.

And as I do, I will be open, I will be ambitious, and I will listen.

I'll still be holding my town hall meetings, that I've been holding for the last two years, around the country, where you can come and ask me whatever you like.

The next one is actually in Sheffield on Friday.

As I lead the transformation of our political system, I want you to tell me how you want your politics to be.

Power will be yours.

That is new politics.

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

Chuka Umunna speaks at the launch of Labour's education manifesto during the general election. Photograph: Getty Images.
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After so badly misjudging the leadership contest, how will the Blairites handle Corbyn?

The left-winger's opponents are divided between conciliation and aggression. 

When Labour lost the general election in May, the party’s modernisers sensed an opportunity. Ed Miliband, one of the most left-wing members of the shadow cabinet, had been unambiguously rejected and the Tories had achieved their first majority in 23 years. More than any other section of the party, the Blairites could claim to have foreseen such an outcome. Surely the pendulum would swing their way?

Yet now, as Labour’s leadership contest reaches its denouement, those on the right are asking themselves how they misjudged the landscape so badly. Their chosen candidate, Liz Kendall, is expected to finish a poor fourth and the party is poised to elect Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader in its 115-year history. For a faction that never ceases to underline the importance of winning elections, it will be a humbling result.

Though the crash has been sudden, the Blairites have long been in decline. Gordon Brown won the leadership unchallenged and senior figures such as John Reid, James Purnell and Alan Milburn chose to depart from the stage rather than fight on. In 2010, David Miliband, the front-runner in the leadership election, lost to his brother after stubbornly refusing to distance himself from the Iraq war and alienating undecided MPs with his imperiousness.

When the younger Miliband lost, the modernisers moved fast – too fast. “They’re behaving like family members taking jewellery off a corpse,” a rival campaign source told me on 9 May. Many Labour supporters agreed. The rush of op-eds and media interviews antagonised a membership that wanted to grieve in peace. The modernising contenders – Chuka Umunna, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh, Tristram Hunt – gave the impression that the Blairites wanted to drown out all other voices. “It was a huge mistake for so many players from that wing of the party to be put into the field,” a shadow cabinet minister told me. “In 1994, forces from the soft left to the modernising right united around Tony Blair. The lesson is never again can we have multiple candidates.”

While conducting their post-mortem, the Blairites are grappling with the question of how to handle Corbyn. For some, the answer is simple. “There shouldn’t be an accommodation with Corbyn,” John McTernan, Blair’s former director of political operations, told me. “Corbyn is a disaster and he should be allowed to be his own disaster.” But most now adopt a more conciliatory tone. John Woodcock, the chair of Progress, told me: “If he wins, he will be the democratically elected leader and I don’t think there will be any serious attempt to actually depose him or to make it impossible for him to lead.”

Umunna, who earlier rebuked his party for “behaving like a petulant child”, has emphasised that MPs “must accept the result of our contest when it comes and support our new leader in developing an agenda that can return Labour to office”. The shadow business secretary even suggests that he would be prepared to discuss serving in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet if he changed his stances on issues such as nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation. Were Umunna, a former leadership contender, to adopt a policy of aggression, he would risk being blamed should Corbyn fail.

Suggestions that the new parliamentary group Labour for the Common Good represents “the resistance” are therefore derided by those close to it. The organisation, which was launched by Umunna and Hunt before Corbyn’s surge, is aimed instead at ensuring the intellectual renewal that modernisers acknowledge has been absent since 2007. It will also try to unite the party’s disparate mainstream factions: the Blairites, the Brownites, the soft left, the old right and Blue Labour. The ascent of Corbyn, who has the declared support of just 15 MPs (6.5 per cent of the party), has persuaded many that they cannot afford the narcissism of small differences. “We need to start working together and not knocking lumps out of each other,” Woodcock says. There will be no defections, no SDP Mk II. “Jeremy’s supporters really underestimate how Labour to the core the modernisers are,” Pat McFadden, the shadow Europe minister, told me.

Although they will not change their party, the Blairites are also not prepared to change their views. “Those of us on this side of Labour are always accused of being willing to sell out for power,” a senior moderniser told me. “Well, we do have political principles and they’re not up for bartering.” He continued: “Jeremy Corbyn is not a moderate . . .
He’s an unreconstructed Bennite who regards the British army as morally equivalent to the IRA. I’m not working with that.”

Most MPs believe that Corbyn will fail but they are divided on when. McFadden has predicted that the left-winger “may even get a poll bounce in the short term, because he’s new and thinking differently”. A member of the shadow cabinet suggested that Labour could eventually fall to as low as 15 per cent in the polls and lose hundreds of councillors.

The challenge for the Blairites is to reboot themselves in time to appear to be an attractive alternative if and when Corbyn falters. Some draw hope from the performance of Tessa Jowell, who they still believe will win the London mayoral selection. “I’ve spoken to people who are voting enthusiastically both for Jeremy and for Tessa,” Wes Streeting, the newly elected MP for Ilford North, said. “They have both run very optimistic, hopeful, positive campaigns.”

But if Corbyn falls, it does not follow that the modernisers will rise. “The question is: how do we stop it happening again if he does go?” a senior frontbencher said. “He’s got no interest or incentive to change the voting method. We could lose nurse and end up with something worse.” If the road back to power is long for Labour, it is longest of all for the Blairites. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 03 September 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Pope of the masses