There is a paradox at the heart of our politics today. Never has the need for politics to effect change been greater, but never has trust in politicians and the political process been at a lower ebb. People across Britain are still outraged by the expenses crisis, and by what they regard as a betrayal of trust by some of their elected representatives. Many of our citizens either do not vote at all or have been tempted by the fringes and the extremes. That is why I believe that the way we do politics needs to change. And it is why I believe now is the time to take action.
Since 1997, we have delivered devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We have provided a mayor for London. We have created the independent supreme court, and guaranteed individual liberties through the Human Rights Act. We have created an independent regulator for parliamentary standards. Next we are ending the outdated hereditary principle in the House of Lords. These are important changes of which progressives can be proud. But the cause of renewing our politics has been put back by the damage of the expenses scandal.
That is why I want to launch a rallying call for a new progressive politics. To be blunt, we need to give politics back to the people. We need the people to know it’s their parliament, not ours. As part of this I believe it is time to look afresh at the electoral system. Can we enhance the mandate of the constituency MP, as well as engaging people further in the choice they have at the ballot box?
I believe we can now build a progressive consensus in favour of change, so we will bring forward legislation to hold a referendum on moving to the alternative vote system, which should be held before the end of October 2011.
We must act now. I am determined to do everything I can to take on and persuade those who want to deny the people the chance to decide at a referendum, and I will build support across the Commons, the Lords and the country. This is about giving the people a choice, and it can unite those who believe in electoral reform with those who want to maintain a strong constituency link.
Second, I want us to address the question of a written constitution – an issue on which I am inviting all parties to work together in a spirit of partnership and patriotism. If we are to decide to have a written constitution, it would be fitting to complete it in time for the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta in Runnymede in 1215.
But it is not just about formal democracy, it is also about opening up government. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, has worked with us to open up more information to citizens: on health, education, crime and local communities. Citizens are using this information to develop websites that inform, enrich and enliven our democracy. It is truly direct democracy in action.
I am inviting the leaders of all parties to engage positively in these debates and back our constitutional reform and governance bill. So far the Conservative leadership have offered soundbites about the price of chips in the Commons canteen, or proposed changes to parliament that would promote their party’s interests. But every time they have been tested on the big issues of reform – from devolution to the future of the hereditary peers – the Tories have been found wanting.
Faith and trust in parliament has taken a severe knock in the past year, but I do not believe people have lost their appetite for politics, or for the change it can bring.
Let us work together so that politicians on all sides can reconnect with the people. For it is only by changing our politics that we make the changes to build Britain’s future.
Gordon Brown, the British prime minister.