Today I am launching Labour’s plans to reform Parliament and our political system. They are radical plans, and they need to be. Over my political life trust in politics and politicians has been falling, and Parliament has become less effective at scrutinising the government. Politics has been moving further and further away from the people it is supposed to serve, concentrating more power and influence in the hands of a privileged few.
When we face the challenges we do at the moment – responding to an increasingly globalised world, bringing down the deficit, making sure people have a good quality of life – talking about political reform seems like a side show. But the reality is that we need political reform to address one of the most fundamental questions of our time: why people have stopped believing in the power of politics to change their lives.
I joined the Labour Party when I was sixteen because I wanted to change the world. I knew that if you don’t do politics, you get it done to you. And as at least a million have been forced to food banks while power concentrates in the hands of a few, I now know that has never been truer.
Over the last three years as shadow Leader of the House I’ve spent time travelling the country talking to people who don’t vote through my People’s Politics Inquiry, and why I’ve spent hours in commons committees discussing the minutiae of the legislative process. I know that at every level our politics needs to change.
Labour will start with reforming our elections to reverse the decline in voter turnout that we’ve been seeing for sixty years. To ensure voting fits around people’s busy lives, we will trial online voting and make it easier to register to vote. And to ensure marginalised voices aren’t ignored in our politics, we’ll give the franchise to 16-and-17-year-olds and scrap the government’s gagging law which stops charities and campaigners speaking out for the powerless.
The second thing we’ll do is restore the Commons as the fulcrum our democracy by ensuring it can properly scrutinise the government and ensuring it feels more in touch with people’s lives. We’ll introduce a procedure for passing laws to ensure the public have more of a say and to ensure that backbenchers can properly hold Ministers to account. We will introduce a people’s Prime Ministers Questions. And we will consult on new powers for the Speaker so he can tackle the worst and repeat forms of barracking in the chamber that research shows turns the public off.
The debate on second jobs last week revealed just how much there is to do to put people back in the driving seat of our politics, over rich and powerful vested interests. Not only do the Tories defend a discredited status quo on jobs, the last five years have seen a series of lobbying scandals and a raft of big money donors buying influence in the Conservative Party. We in the Labour Party will always stand up for the powerless over the powerful, and we will start with a universal register of lobbyists backed by a code of conduct and sanctions, regulation of second jobs and effective action to tackle the revolving door between government jobs and lobbying.
In every community there are people with the vision and capacity to change their neighbourhood and their country for the better. But the levers of power feel far away and inaccessible. That’s why the final part our plan is to devolve power so that people feel closer to the political decisions that affect them. Not only will we devolve an unprecedented £30bn of resources to city and county regions in England, our constitutional convention will talk to people about the change they want to see, and our senate of the nations and regions will finally radically reform the Lords whilst delivering regional representation.
A Labour government will reverse our democratic decline and put power back where it belongs, with people. You can read our plans in full here.
Angela Eagle is shadow Leader of the House.