Firstly, let me set the scene by agreeing with others who laid out the background better than I can here.
Firstly, Norm reckons that Labour supporters should wish for an early general election that we would certainly lose. Shuggy doesn't. I'll leave you to read their reasons, but I'm with Shuggy on this one.
I'm also with Shuggy that democratic reform - significantly within the party - is the big question - and a failure to do it has led the party into the mess it is in now.
And the nature of that democratic reform? Well, outside of the populist arc-light, I'm finding a remarkable consensus coalescing among people who I generally don't agree with about anything.
In short posts on my other blog, I've cherry-picked Simon Jenkins and David Blunkett and Brendan O'Neill arguing that....
- Electoral reform can often diminish rather than improve democracy
- We are in a crisis of representation - where the public aren't keeping an eye on the big issue here - that the abilities and quality of deliberation among politicians is the key issue in a democracy
- Decentralisation requires a concerted effort to tackle the causes of centralisation and to promote a renewal and extension of local representative democracy.
So where does this lead us? Firstly, I think that this is, potentially, a very exciting moment. Labour - by most standards - are open to constitutional reforms. We've seen more of them in the last decade than in the preceding century. It may have been annoyingly slow and crabwise, but we've had
- widespread devolution,
- lots of different voting systems in different places,
- the Human Rights Act
- (admittedly incomplete) Lords reform,
- the Freedom of Information reforms (!)
That last one illustrates that this government is not one that is completely averse to giving it's powers away.
On the question of electoral reform, I'm fairly neutral on proportionality, I don't think it's as important as a lot of protagonists say it is. It's also something that is politically problematic for Labour and out of the question for the Tories.
But I think that there is
- a cross-party consensus in support of political decentralisation.
- an opportunity to challenge and largely replace the political caste that have stood by and allowed the power of parliament to whither
- a widespread view that politics needs to be renewed. That parties need to reverse their decline, that they need to funded by lots of small donations rather than a few large ones
- a cross-party view that new communications technologies can alter the way that people are involved in policymaking
- a loss of the legitimacy of Parliament - as it is currently constituted - for it to use parliamentary privilege to defend the privileges and monopolies enjoyed by parliamentarians.
Now is a good time to unpack the term 'Parliamentary Privilege.' Formerly 'immovable' obstacles could be brushed aside at the moment.
Personally, I've always hated the idea of MPs being 'recalled' and brought to account by their constituency parties because it has usually (in the past) been used as a means of mandating them to adopt unworkable (or electorally impossible) policies. (I made this argument more fully here). But today, everything is different.
The idea of MPs being forced to fight for their right to represent their party based upon the character is a fantastic opportunity for Labour, (and, as it happens, for the other parties).
Also, the possibilities for crowdsourcing opinion and evidence, as well as the ease with which trusted open deliberative communities can be formed, means that the kind of consensus-building needed for constitutional change can be done in weeks rather than years.
As long as the current danger-point for Gordon Brown passes (and I'd not bet the farm that it will), Labour have a year. They could.....
Ask some trusted public figures to spend two weeks crowdsourcing existing evidence to come up with a model of the issues surrounding constitutional reform and decentralisation
Identify the obstacles to decentralisation and seek a consensus on what needs to be done to overcome them (some of them involve restraint in the way that the main parties campaign)
Open every CLP's selection process up so that every candidate has to prove that their character is acceptable to people who will campaign for them.
Also, establish a panel of people from outside the party (those smartarses that are talking about standing as 'white-suit' candidates would be perfect) and ask them to give every Labour candidate a clean bill-of-health on the question of probity
Labour could go to the country in the spring as the party with a clear road-map to transform politics forever subject to a consensus that isn't necessarily that politically contentious while being able to sidestep the intractable question of electoral reform. It would also go to the country as the one party that has NO candidates that haven't proved their personal probity.
There is no reason why any of these possibilities couldn't work today. They are all do-able before the next election. Even the Tories would agree with a lot of them.
In fact, the main reason that the Tories may not play ball here is that this approach could give our Gordon a fighting chance of winning the next election. Or - better still - it could give whoever Gordon steps aside for at the last minute a fighting chance of winning the next election....
(Gordon is, as far as being a leader during an election, less suitable than Michael Foot was, as far as I can see - he has to go before polling day).