One of the greatest problems we have, as Greens, in talking about democracy and democratic reform is the response: well, we have democracy already, don’t we?
The answer, as with many questions, is: “Yes, but”.
A mistake is often made in defining democracy as being purely about elections and, even worse, purely about which MPs get into Parliament every five years. Even if we had the most proportional voting system possible, it would still be useless if the power of the Executive remains strong at the expense of that of the legislature.
As Greens, I think we need to start talking about democracy and our policies on democratic change far more, because it is in this area where we are distinguished from other political parties, both on the Left, centre-left and Right.
Of course, most – if not all! – Greens believe in proportional representation, an elected House of Lords and votes at 16. Enough clearly believe in right of recall, a written constitution and a Bill of Rights to have made it party policy. But these ideas are not unique to Greens. And although this doesn’t lessen their importance – they are vital to improving democracy – there are some principles that Greens have championed that other parties have neglected.
The first principle is the idea of subsidiarity. This is the principle that if something can be decided better at a lower level than at a higher one, it should be. I believe this a very different philosophy to how it sounds. Rather than proposing that everything be planned locally, it provides for national policies to be decided by Parliament; regional policies to be decided regionally; and local policies to be decided locally.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but when you consider that Westminster has more influence on London life than the Mayor does, and that the MP for Chipping Barnet (my constituency) probably has more of an effect on the area than our local Councillors, you may begin to understand what I’m getting at.
The second principle that Greens have promoted somewhat more than others is the idea of strengthening and reforming legislatures at the expense of the Executive. The section of our Policies for a Sustainable Society (PSS) on this is actually quite exciting. The party is committed to overhauling Parliament and councils completely. Local Councils would be encouraged to return to a Committee system, where everyone can contribute, while Parliament would be totally changed.
Instead of the ‘strong leadership’ of an all-powerful Prime Minister and appointed cabinet, an elected First Minister and Ministers would preside over and be accountable to departmental committees of MPs. Power would rest with MPs, not the Prime Minister. The whole House would decide the direction of the country. In other words, elected representatives could exert a real influence on behalf of the people they represent, rather than being nothing more than voting fodder, driven into the Aye or No lobbies by party whips.
There’s all that and more in our policy documents. We only need to talk about it more.