The UK needs constitutional reform – before it’s too late

By Ben Clinton

Johnson’s government is finally in freefall. After years of attempting to decimate democracy in this country, banning protest, ripping up the ministerial code and injecting corruption into every portion of this nation, only pressure from Tory MPs has forced his resignation. This could have been our Capitol coup moment, the breakdown of major public institutions. Yet for now, that has been averted – but it could still happen. That is why the UK needs major constitutional reform and why ultimately, Labour should be the driving force behind it.

It speaks volumes that after nearly fifty government resignations and the vast majority of the electorate and Parliament turning against him, Johnson elected to cling onto power as PM, only changing his mind after his most dedicated supporters motioned the inevitable. His premiership has very much echoed the outward corruption and law-breaking that other hard-right leaders worldwide have embraced so liberally. Hence, it isn’t an unfair assumption that he may have taken extremely anti-democratic steps in order to cling to power.

Calling a general election while simultaneously purging the Tory party of opposition, proroguing parliament or even embracing Daily Mail-esque conspiracies about plots to end his premiership – these are all options he could have pursued, with very few actual conventions to stop him.

Let us all remember that Johnson could also still tear up British democracy during his ‘caretaker’ premiership. There are no constitutional safeguards to prove otherwise. He hasn’t yet officially signed off on a resignation letter or even said he’d quit as prime minister; thus, we have to take his 7th July speech as implied gospel. It’s a sorry state when we collectively hope the litany of ‘temporary’ ministers like Dorries, Bone and Jenkyns, all blind Johnsonites with a near delusional set of loyalties, aren’t attached enough to support him on any brash political tangents.

So, what is Labour’s role in diminishing these threats? With Gordon Brown currently steering a constitutional reform review to be published later in the year, there is an infinite wish list of possibilities to truly codify and transform our relic of a constitution.

We simply cannot fall into the US Democrats’ constitutional incompetence when standing up to militant conservatism. They had the chance to codify abortion rights in the late 2000, to abolish the filibuster, to enshrine voting rights. None of these aims were ever completed. Labour must act before our constitution is violated by similar beliefs.

Federalism is key to a new constitutional settlement. Although devolved government works well in Scotland and Wales, England is completely lacking in one. A true English parliament (preferably set in a historically-rich Northern city, like York, to try and offset regional inequalities), along with a First Minister of England would significantly reduce the democratic deficit our largest constituent nation faces.

But federalism should not stop there. Even the most efficient district and county councils often fall into infinite bureaucracy. Meanwhile, many local communities lack true full-time figureheads. Replacing these local government areas with city and adjoined town councils, headed by separately elected mayors and staffed by properly-salaried councillors, would allow for hyper-local service allotment and true local representation.

Proportional representation has become a growing issue within the Labour Party in recent years. It is clear that sharing our electoral system with only Belarus in Europe is nothing to be proud of. Furthermore, first-past-the-post produces results that are highly biased towards the benefit of the Conservative Party, while simultaneously wasting millions of votes.

Leaders of all wings of the Party are united on the issue. Starmer and Sarwar have voiced their frustration with the system, while unions are voting to endorse the changes. Last year, such a motion agonisingly failed to clear a vote at conference. Hopefully this year, we can finally signal our intentions to reform the UK’s voting system by decisively voting through motions that enshrine proportional representation in our Party’s platform.

Some may look at these ideas from an outside viewpoint and ask how they truly help working people? That is a perfectly fine question to ask. My response to that is that working people face two struggles of inequality in this country, in the fields of both economic inequality and representation.

Providing a radical platform for our constitution goes a long way to recognising this distrust and frustration with our political system. By providing real local political representation, wholeheartedly rejecting corruption through a new national settlement and equalising the votes of every individual, we show that we mean business when we proclaim our reformist credentials.

A few years ago, many let out a chuckle when the 45th US President proclaimed Johnson as ‘Britain’s Trump’, but now those laughs have transitioned into a definitive shudder as more and more parallels reveal themselves. As his caretaker period continues forth with extreme uncertainty, we have to cling on and hope he follows through with his resignation promise.

The next Labour government cannot allow our constitution to facilitate the election of a more competent autocrat. Thus, we must push forward, carving a new constitutional settlement for the UK, one that restores trust in our institutions and safeguards democracy for generations to come.

Ben Clinton is a Peasmarsh Parish Councillor and the Bexhill and Battle CLP Youth Officer. More information on his work can be found on his Twitter account: https://twitter.com/bencclinton.

Image: Boris Johnson resigns. https://www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov/52200032151/ Licence: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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