The MPs’ expenses scandal has triggered a widespread recognition that something is rotten at the heart of democracy, and in its wake has followed a public clamour for change. It has led to a deluge of proposals on how politics needs to be reformed. But who trusts the current Westminster residents to put their own house in order?
One thing is certain – such change is not realistically on offer at the next general election. Politicians can’t be properly held to account under the first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting system. Too many MPs already know that however badly they might have behaved, their jobs are effectively protected, as even a political earthquake of the kind we saw in 1945 or 1997 will not be sufficient to eject them from their safe seats. To many potential voters the prospect of an outright Conservative majority on a minority share of the vote seems like a mere changing of the guard rather than the root-and-branch reform our politics so desperately requires.
Behind the public anger over expenses is a broader feeling that political parties are all part of the same game and have grown totally out of touch with the needs of everyday people.
With Gordon Brown’s majority potentially resting on as few as 8,000 critically-placed swing voters in super-marginal seats, many voters are recognising that with FPTP their votes are discounted before the election even takes place. Some areas have effectively become ‘one party states’ where no effective contest takes place, since the seat can be regarded as safe or ‘unwinnable’. Electoral calculus has prompted the mainstream parties to compete over the same congested space at the centre ground, while working-class voters in traditionally safe Labour seats have been increasingly marginalised.
This situation is playing right into the hands of far-right extremists such as the BNP. Incredibly, defenders of ‘politics as usual’ are responding to far-right gains in the Euro elections by closing ranks – maintaining the status quo that has effectively shut out millions of voters. To close down the space in which the BNP thrives we need to break the stranglehold of the Westminster establishment and allow a new politics to emerge in its place.
The loud calls for fundamental changes to our political system have already forced Gordon Brown into a statement accepting the need to ‘take forward’ the debate on electoral reform. But without any details, without a process, and in the total absence of any timelines, this may well be just another attempt kick difficult issues into the long grass.
An end to the club
Apologies to Clemenceau, but politics is just too important to be left to politicians. We have already seen the consequences of allowing Westminster to be run as a gentlemen’s club, operating under its own rules.
The decision over how best to elect MPs, and ensure that parliament is seen as more legitimate, more accountable and more representative, simply cannot be left in the hands of an increasingly remote political class. That’s why we’ve brought together the ‘Vote for a Change’ campaign to give people a say on changing the voting system in a referendum – to be held not later than the day of the next general election.
Unlike MPs, we would like to credit voters with a pretty good idea of what they want from their politics and their politicians. If we act swiftly we can establish a jury of ordinary citizens to examine the merits of the different options and put a recommendation before their peers.
We have to take the choice of system put before the electorate out of the hands of the vested interests, and don’t need any proposal that is too popular – and for that read too easy – for the current crop at Westminster. Like other citizens, our MPs will have to learn to make sacrifices – be it their safe seats or the cheap theatre that passes for scrutiny in the Commons.
Of course, in order to get them to grant a referendum we need to build support among these self-same MPs. But they will only be moved by the force of public pressure, so it is vital to go beyond the reach of the Westminster parties. Already the Green Party and Respect have pledged their support, and members of these parties have an important role to play. But it is vital, too, that we reach out to the significant section of the electorate that no longer identifies with any political party.
Critical to the effectiveness of the campaign will be bringing together a wide range of campaign groups, activist networks, civic society bodies, trade unionists and faith communities to voice a powerful demand for change. Leading figures in groups such as Greenpeace and the World Development Movement have signed up to the campaign. They know that a future Conservative government (or a Labour one for that matter) with a large unrepresentative majority could simply ignore demands for progressive policies even if there was a clear majority in the country behind them. The voting system defines the whole political environment – and it should be a concern for every group that might seek government support for their agendas.
But time is short. Opponents of change will be hoping that the present wave of interest in reforming the democratic system will give way to other concerns. We must not less this opportunity pass. While there is still a window for Labour to redeem the promise it made in its 1997 manifesto, it is vital to keep up the pressure and demonstrate the extent of public support.
A ComRes opinion poll for the Independent (2 June 2009) suggested that 69 per cent of those interviewed supported moving to proportional representation for Westminster elections. The fact that the government has felt compelled to return to the subject means that it is starting to feel the heat. Now is the time to raise the temperature still further.
To sign up to the campaign or get more involved visit www.voteforachange.co.uk
Labour's 1983 election campaign has long been used to say it is impossible for a leader like Jeremy Corbyn to win any election from the left. Alex Nunns digs out the truth
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava
It may seem as though these apps are working for us, but we are also working for the apps, writes Kurt Iveson
It's over 100 years ago that domestic workers began to organise to demand the same rights as other workers. Yet with LSE cleaners on strike this week, historian Laura Schwartz asks: how much has really changed?
Omar Barghouti asks whether Donald Trump, in his recent break with America’s long-standing support for the two-state solution, has unwittingly revived the debate about the plausibility, indeed the necessity, of a single, democratic state in historic Palestine?
2 May open meeting for artist-led poster campaign: End Tory Rule
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill
Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility
Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports
From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices
How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed
In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design
Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform