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.

Getty.
Show Hide image

The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.