The labour movement has always fought for the mass participation of people in politics – from campaigning for the equal franchise in the 1910s, to devolution to the nations in the 1990s. As our democracy faces a growing crisis of trust and participation, the left must once again rise to the challenge.
As part of a Fabian Society research project, a diverse group of Labour politicians and activists are working to put democratic reform back on the party’s agenda. Over the last year they have led discussion meetings, published articles and sought ideas on a new discussion website. Focus groups were also convened in order to gather the views of the public.
The project found clear evidence that there is both a need and an appetite for radical reform of our politics. And, through a process of consensus building, the group has written a six-point charter to increase political participation. The group is now asking others to add their name to the charter, as a way of building support for reform from the grassroots.
The charter tries to answer some difficult and controversial questions that have long divided the left. How can we fix the scandals caused by big money in our politics without damaging the trade union link? Can we settle our differences on the question of electoral reform? Can we find consensus on House of Lords reform? While the full charter won’t attract the support of all in our movement, the intensity of disagreement on these issues seems to be diminishing. Hopefully differences of opinion on some points won’t stall action on the rest.
For too long reform to expand democratic participation has been a niche preoccupation within the left. It is now time it moves into our mainstream. This is not only a political imperative for Labour when so much of its traditional support feels alienated from politics; it is also a moral one. We must close the gap between people and political institutions, in order that everyone in Britain has the power to change their lives.