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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Labour failure on democratic engagement

I have just started reading David Laws' '22 Days in May' about the coalition negotiations just after the General Election and already I am struck by Labour's failure to engage with talks seriously and in particular to sign up to serious reform.

That is evident again today with their reaction to Government plans to open up the Parliamentary agenda to the public. The idea is to allow popular online petitions to be debated in Parliament. Those receiving most support, probably 100,000 signatures, would be debated, with some possibly becoming bills.

Labour's response is to suggest that the scheme will lead to "crazy ideas" being discussed by MPs. Newport West Labour MP Paul Flynn, who is a member of the Commons public administration committee, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This seems to be an attractive idea to those who haven't seen how useless this has been in other parts of the world when it's tried.

"If you ask people the question 'do you want to pay less tax?', they vote yes. If we get the e-petitions in there will be some asking for Jeremy Clarkson to be prime minister, for Jedi and Darth Vader to be the religions of the country.

"The blogosphere is not an area that is open to sensible debate; it is dominated by the obsessed and the fanatical and we will get crazy ideas coming forward."

That is a disgraceful attitude towards the people who employ him. Inevitably there will be those who abuse the process, but that is no reason to deny people the opportunity to put forward their own ideas and even to organise petitions to influence the legislative agenda.

The Number 10 petition site was a joke. It treated people with contempt and effectively shunted petitions into a cul-de-sac. It is little wonder that people ended up treating the site in the same way. At least with this scheme there will be the possibility of a constructive outcome and people will be treated like adults. I would expect nothing less.

Labour's attitude is patronising and insulting to those they represent. When in power they only pay lip service to democratic engagement, now it is the same story in opposition.
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