Both Brexit and the coronavirus crisis share an identifiable malaise and a chronic loss of confidence in parliamentary democracy by our people.
The lessons from history are stark. A crisis of faith in democracy as entrenched as this can only be answered by deep parliamentary reform. The great period of reform was in the nineteenth century, with Reform Acts in 1832, 1867 and 1884 all gradually increasing the participation of the ordinary people in the parliamentary process through the expansion of the entitlement to vote.
Let’s not kid ourselves that these great reforms were acts of liberal philanthropy by the elite. The process of reform was driven by fear of revolution, a fear that public distrust of the gulf between the ruling class and the ruled might boil over into the sorts of violent political action seen in Europe in 1848. Indeed, the need for violence to bring enough pressure to cause parliamentary reform can be seen only too well in the case of the last great piece of progressive change: votes for women.
Although each act of parliamentary reform was limited and of its time, we can see the cumulative effect of an arc across time resulting in the People’s Government of 1945, which did so much to harmonise society in our country and create an energy for further progress.
Since then, our society and or environment have been choked with new toxins, undermining the solidarity of those years. Our hopes for genuine and sustainable progress in social and environmental justice begin with every seed of a new wave of parliamentary reform that Greens can help sow.
In the face of ‘business as usual’ policies, Greens must campaign for 21st-century reform. This must be about far more than the pantomime of moving parts of parliament north. However, in this charade of a policy, there are clues to the reform Greens should be agitating for.
At the heart of the next great reform must be Green principles of organic community and empowering the widest possible participation of people in their local communities. This has to be about far more than casting a vote.
Let’s look at the central issue of who gets to stand as a candidate in elections. Time after time, the evidence shows that regardless of political party, people are looking for someone they can trust, someone who has a genuine connection with their hopes, fears and aspirations. Greens should be demanding that this is the only basis on which anyone can put themselves forward for election.
We need radical new thinking. What about if every community formed a ‘Citizen Committee’ which is authentically inclusive of diverse voices and without political affiliation to any party?
Party members will not be eligible. Anyone wanting to stand for election for the local seat must be approved by the Citizen Committee on the basis of their ability to genuinely represent the diversity of local issues. This is a way, for example, of getting the concerns of Black Lives Matter into parliament.
A second radical community-based proposal emerges from persistent concerns about the accountability and competence of MPs. Such Citizen Committees can also evolve into forums for Annual Community Reports by MPs who are obliged to appear in front of the Committee and make an evidence-based report of their competence in parliament over that year.
At the heart of this, Greens will be their competence in delivering environmental and social justice. To give the system teeth, there would need to be mechanisms for Citizen Committees to withdraw their ‘license’ from MPs who are failing to deliver across the range of community priorities, including, for example, school curricula that organically represent diversity.
Furthermore, we are entering into an age in which digital technologies should be bringing people closer to their representatives. In fact, the business of ‘fake news’ and ‘Twitter propaganda’ is a hijack of the potential for improved communication and increased trust that these technologies have.
Therefore, such Citizen Committees can be developed into genuine community-based citizen meetings through mass participation in online forums. Through participation in these, there is every reason to believe that the divisiveness and fear of diversity, which have driven a decade of populism, can be gradually driven out.