Wednesday, 20 May 2009

A Republican View of Events

Britain needs a new politics - one based on popular responsibility
May 15th, 2009 | Graham Smith

Republicanism has always been about more than criticisms of palaces and princes. It is a demand for a whole different way of doing politics, and that demand is made ever more important by the current crisis of confidence in the British political system.

Hostility toward politicians, suspicion of their motives, frustration with the outcomes of successive elections, a belief that no matter who wins little changes - all these pre-date the Telegraph’s campaign of exposure of parliamentary expenses. The expense claims have simply been a catalyst for bringing to the fore long held antipathy toward the political classes.

The current crisis is now bringing about debate about wholesale change to the political system. Much of that debate is unfocused, most of it lacks any real direction and discussions show little understanding of where the problem lies and what the solutions might be. There is even talk of an “anti-politics” mood.

Too often in recent days I have heard the sound of fingers being pointed - at the MPs, at the government, even at the media. But this is supposed to be a democracy, which means ‘we the people’ are supposed to be in charge. Surely then, some of the blame must come back to us. This is our system of politics, we allowed it to carry on unchecked and unreformed. We must be held responsible for that failure.

If things are to change it is no good abandoning politics; that’s just lazy and cynical. It’s no good simply wishing for a “British Obama” as some have said on the radio this morning; that’s just waiting for others to take responsibility. If things are to change then that change must come from ‘we the people’. We must take responsibility for that change.

The real change that is needed is an entirely new notion of what politics is about. We must foster a deeply felt belief that ‘we’ are in charge and therefore ‘we’ are responsible for what happens in our political system. We need a new politics based on popular sovereignty in principal and which recognises and enshrines that sovereignty in practice.

Such a new politics must start with a new republican constitution. Monarchy is the classic symbol of top-down old politics. It is a great big stamp on our constitution telling us “no need to worry yourselves about a thing, we’ll take care of you”. It fails to foster that sense of responsibility for governing ourselves that is vital for a healthy democracy, and it fails to provide the sort of accountable and democratic political institutions popular sovereignty demands.

A new constitution must be simple for the people to understand, replacing the labyrinth of laws and conventions we currently have. That way we can all know who has what power, how they got it and how they can be removed from office.

All holders of public office must be democratically accountable, whether through direct elections or indirectly to parliament or the head of state. That way we can ensure all officials can be chosen by us and removed by us depending on our judgement of their qualities.

The powers of the government and parliament must be limited. It is not possible, in a new politics where ‘we’ are in charge and are responsible for ruling ourselves, for our elected servants to continue to have unlimited and unchecked power over our lives. The system must make clear that we are the masters and the officials and politicians are the servants.

All spending must be accountable and transparent. This is our money, so no more secrecy on security costs, spending on the head of state or on tax breaks for privileged individuals. On spending, as with all else, there must be a political culture that recognises and respects our right to know, to know what decisions are being made, to know what money is being spent. These are, after all, our decisions and our money.

Above all the new constitution must be responsive to the will of the people. No more finger pointing in a system where ‘we the people’ are in charge. If something goes wrong, if someone screws up, we must be able to sort it out. No more shifting the blame, no more shirking the responsibility. we need a new politics, a politics based on popular power and popular responsibility.

Comment: Independence Cymru takes the view that the nations of Britain should govern themselves and free themselves from the yoke of the British Parlianent. Scotland is well on the way to achieving this aim.

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