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10 February 2010

Tessa Jowell in call for wider constitutional reform

"Blairite" minister joins David Miliband in appealing for fixed-term parliaments and more.

By James Macintyre


Tessa Jowell, the Cabinet Office minister, has called for a wide extension of the government’s constitutional and political reform agenda to complement the proposed referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) electoral system.

In an interview for a feature on Labour’s big new idea of “mutualism”, which appears in the New Statesman magazine tomorrow, Jowell seperately warns her colleagues not to be “tribal” and urges them to work with the Liberal Democrats “where we have common cause”.

As well as AV, she calls for “a whole other programme, a list of changes that we should still keep on the table and as part of the public debate”.

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Asked if Labour has “done enough” to win over the Lib Dems in the event of a hung parliament, Jowell replied: “That’s a very important question.” Then she paused and said: “I think that we don’t know if there is going to be a hung parliament, and we are going all out to win. But I certainly think that where we have common cause with the Liberals as the party of the centre . . . we shouldn’t be tribal in building policy together . . .

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“The process of reform has to be constant. We now have agreement to AV, but there is a whole other programme, a list of changes that we should still keep on the table and as part of the public debate.”

Controversially, Jowell includes open primaries — “I feel much stronger if people who are not just Labour members want to support me in pursuit of progressive change” — lowering the voting age and fixed-term parliaments, and says “there will be others”.

The comments emerge after David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, told a Press Gallery lunch yesterday that he was backing a “reset referendum” on a range of constitutional measures, including fixed-term parliaments.

Mutual appreciation

Speaking again of “mutuals” — public bodies, set up along John Lewis lines, in which employees and sometimes users have a stake and vested interest in success — Jowell says that because “you can’t control” their outcome, a move to this model woud require a “cultural shift” in government thinking.

Jowell has pushed for “mutuals” since before becoming minister for the Cabinet Office, a post she took up last June, and which she holds concurrently with the portfolios of minister for London and Paymaster General.

Her interview comes days before she is to hold a series of meetings to discuss mutuals. They will include discussions with the Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, about Surestart and with the Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, about social care. She will also hold talks with the housing minister John Healey.

Last month, on the eve of the “coup that never was”, instigated by Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt and first revealed by, Jowell was the subject of internet rumours that she was about to resign. revealed that, in fact, she had spoken to Downing Street to make it clear she was staying on in government.

Now she says: “Anyone who knows me knows I am not a resigner. I made a decision in 2007 when Gordon became Prime Minister and he asked me to stay in the government, that I would stay in the government . . . not on conditions, but to support him [and] to support the Labour Party.”

For further comments from Tessa Jowell and others on the subject of mutuals and Labour’s next general election manifesto, see tomorrow’s magazine.