#saveournhs #werspartacus #blacktriangleuk #dpac #conhome
26th May 2009
The full text of Conservative leader David Cameron’s speech setting out his vision for reform of the British political system.
These have been dramatic and turbulent weeks for our whole political process.
A torrent of revelation and accusation. Apologies have been made. Money paid back. Careers ended. The Speaker has resigned. Reform has been accelerated.
We have in the past two weeks taken rapid and far-reaching steps to clean up the system of MPs’ expenses, to prevent abuse and to ensure transparency.
And there will be more to come.
In the Conservative Party, our scrutiny panel is methodically doing its work, and soon will have gone through the expense claims of all Conservative MPs.
We will know how much money needs to be paid back, and MPs know they must work with the scrutiny panel, or lose the whip.
And as I have already said, I will consider asking the board of the Party to initiate a re-selection process where necessary.
But the public reaction to this political crisis is far too serious to be assuaged by any instant package of measures, or the sight of MPs paying the price for unethical behaviour.
As I have said all along, this is just the start.
And I have also argued that the best way of dealing with this political crisis would be to hold an immediate general election.
In part, that is because the public, not politicians, should have the final verdict on what each MP has done.
But it’s also because the British people’s fury at politicians today indicates a much deeper problem in our political system…
…one that has been growing for many years and one that only a general election can begin to address.
Today I want to examine that deeper problem and explain the changes we need.
In the past few days and weeks there has been much excited talk about revolution.
I think that is overblown: we must keep a cool head and a sense of proportion.
But equally, we must not let ourselves believe that a bit of technocratic tinkering here, a bit of constitutional consultation there, will do the trick.
No, this political crisis shows that big change is required.
We do need a new politics in this country.
We do need sweeping reform.
But we’ve got to get it right.
And that means understanding what’s gone wrong.
LACK OF CONTROL
Of course the immediate trigger of the anger over expenses is the realisation of what some MPs have actually been doing with taxpayers’ money.
But the fundamental cause is, I believe, something different.
It is in fact the same thing that made people so angry about the bankers who got rich while they were bringing the economy to its knees.
It’s the reason people are angry with the councils that fine them for putting their rubbish out on the wrong day.
With the NHS managers who shut down a much-loved maternity unit.
With the local officials who are super-efficient when it comes to chasing up your council tax bill, but super-useless when it comes to giving your child a place in a good school.
It’s the reason so many innocent citizens now mistrust and even fear the police – the very people who should be protecting them…
…and why so many people increasingly feel that the state is their enemy not their ally.
The anger, the suspicion and the cynicism – yes with politics and politicians, but with so much else besides…
…I believe they are the result of people’s slow but sure realisation that they have very little control over the world around them…
…and over much that determines whether or not they’ll live happy and fulfilling lives.
In media, shopping, travel, entertainment and music we have huge choice and control, from many organisations that offer us incredible service and value.
But when it comes to the things we ask from politics, government and the state – there is a sense of power and control draining away; having to take what you’re given, with someone else pulling the strings.
And then when people see MPs caught cheating but still clinging on…
…bankers reaping their bonuses despite breaking the economy…
…and bureaucrats whose incompetence is never punished…
…they see a world that is built to benefit powerful elites, and they feel a terrible but impotent anger.
So we rage at our political system because we feel it is self-serving, not serving us.
We rage at the police for doing what they want, not what we want.
We rage that the local post office was shut down because some bureaucrat or management consultant in a distant glass tower decided it didn’t make enough money…
…even though it made a profit and everyone in the community used it and loved it.
We rage that the GP surgery where we know the doctors and nurses – and they know us and our family – is threatened with closure…
…because some minister miles away decides it’s more ‘efficient’ for us to be ‘processed’ in a bigger ‘facility’ in the centre of town.
Pounded by forces outside their control, people feel increasingly powerless…
…deprived of opportunities to shape the world around them, and at the mercy of powerful elites that preside over them.
LACK OF RESPONSIBILITY
This wouldn’t be so bad if the powerful simply left the powerless to get on with the rest of their lives.
But in Britain today a growing culture of rule-following, box-ticking and central prescription robs people of the chance to use their judgement or to take responsibility for making the right decisions.
And an increasingly Orwellian surveillance state – symbolised by the simultaneously ineffective and intrusive ID cards scheme – reminds people that the powers-that-be don’t really trust them.
So this compounds the rage that we feel.
We rage that as we go about our business we are picked and poked and bossed around, annoyed and irritated and endlessly harassed by public and private sector officialdom…
…that treats us like children with rules and regulations and directives and laws that no-one voted for, no-one supports, but no-one ever seems to be able to do the slightest thing about.
No trust. No discretion. No judgment.
Just the grey, monotonous, maddening refrains of life in Britain, too much of the time:
“I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.”
“It’s for your own safety.”
“It’s child protection I’m afraid.”
“I do agree but unfortunately that’s the system.”
This rise in top-down cultural authoritarianism, combined with the steady growth in the size and scope of the state…
…has created an entitlement culture where self-reliance and social responsibility are gradually eroded – to the point where good people routinely do bad things.
In this world MPs can claim they were following the rules without asking whether they were doing the right thing.
Benefit claimants can cheat the system and not feel guilty – because that’s what the system’s there for.
Bankers acting recklessly can say they’ve been cleared by the regulator – and then demand a bailout from taxpayers.
This is how social workers in Haringey thought they had an excellent service that ticked all the boxes.
And this is how policemen end up arresting a Bishop for allowing his son to climb a chimney and use Home Office guidance to excuse the inexcusable.
When people feel powerless, they also feel anxious and insecure.
So we work the longest hours, and are the least trusting and loneliest people in the rich world.
We lose our temper more than any other people in Europe.
We have record family breakdown. Record teenage pregnancy. Record childhood obesity. Record drug abuse. Record violent crime.
The list goes on and on and it is the direct result of the collapse in personal responsibility that inevitably follows the leeching of power and control away from the individual and the community into the hands of the elite.
REDISTRIBUTION OF POWER
Our philosophy of progressive Conservatism – the pursuit of progressive goals through Conservative means – aims to reverse this.
To reverse our social atomisation by giving people the power to work collectively with their peers to solve common problems.
To reverse our society’s infantilisation by inviting people to look to themselves, their communities and wider society for answers, instead of just the state.
And above all to encourage people to behave responsibly…
…because they know that doing the right thing and taking responsibility will be recognised and will make a difference.
So I believe there is only one way out of this national crisis we face.
We need a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power.
From the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities.
From Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy.
Through decentralisation, transparency and accountability we must take power away from the political elite and hand it to the man and woman in the street.
It is that redistribution of power that I want to focus on today.
Yes, that means reforming Parliament.
But it means much more besides.
The reform that’s now required – this redistribution of power and control – must go through nearly every public institution, not just Parliament.
We should start by pushing political power down as far as possible, wherever possible.
To do this, politicians will have to change their attitude – big time.
Politicians, and the senior civil servants and advisors who work for them, instinctively hoard power because they think that’s the way to get things done.
Well we’re going to have to kill that instinct, and believe me: I know how hard that’s going to be.
It will require a serious culture change amongst ministers, amongst Whitehall officials – and beyond.
Every decision government makes, it should ask itself a series of simple questions:
Does this give power to people, or take it away?
Could we let individuals, neighbourhoods and communities take control?
How far can we push power down?
It’s by asking those questions that you arrive at our plans for school reform.
Right now, parents just have to hope for the best and take what school place they’re given.
You sit there waiting for the letter from the council, hoping you get your first choice of school or at least hoping you avoid the schools at the bottom of your list.
One of the most important things in your life – the education of your children – largely out of your hands.
Our reforms will take the power over children’s education out of the council’s hands and put it directly in parents’ hands, so they have control.
We will end the state monopoly in state education, so that any suitably qualified organization can set up a new school…
…and any parent who isn’t happy with the education their child is receiving can send their child to a new school…
…backed by state money, including a new extra payment for children from the poorest families.
This is the kind of redistribution of power that will be the starting point for a Conservative government: transferring power and control directly to individuals.
But it’s not always possible to give power back to individuals, and in those cases, we need to do the next best thing: redistributing power to neighbourhoods and local government.
Our plans for housing will give real control over the size, shape, look and feel of their community back to local people.
Instead of raging impotently at some distant regional government’s decision to dump thousands of new homes in their town…
…without any thought about the impact on traffic, public services and the character of the community…
…through new Local Housing Trusts, neighbourhoods will themselves have the power to build the homes they want.
And we’re going to empower local councils by cutting right back on all the interference and instructions from central government – the rules and restrictions, the targets and inspections.
We’re going to get rid of pointless and unaccountable regional government and bureaucracy, and we’ll end the central ring-fencing of local budgets.
We’re going to replace bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability: instead of central government targets and controls to make sure councils spend money wisely…
…we’ll simply require councils to publish online details of all their spending over £25,000, and to get approval for any excessive tax increases in a local referendum.
Newly empowered councils will be able to keep the proceeds of any activities that boost local economic growth…
…and through a new ‘general power of competence’ will be able to do literally whatever they like as long as it’s legal – creating solutions to local problems without getting permission from the centre.
This sweeping new power for local government will make it far more responsive to local concerns…
…particularly once we’ve legislated to create a new power of citizen’s initiative, with local referenda on issues where over five per cent of the electorate have signed up.
These changes add up to a massive redistribution of power from central government to local government…
…just like our plan to give those in our cities real civic leadership through directly-elected Mayors, and to put policing under local democratic control.
Forget the Home Office and all those useless Home Secretaries whose failure to deliver on their crime-fighting rhetoric has done so much to undermine faith in politics.
With real local accountability, people will be able to use the power of the ballot box to get the effective beat-based policing and crime prevention they want so badly…
…but which the centralisation of political power has denied them for years.
Talk to a lot of politicians in Westminster about decentralisation and they’ll say they’re all for it.
But mention local government and you’re met with a roll of the eyes.
There’s a patronising assumption that those in local government just aren’t up to the job.
Well first of all that’s not true.
For the last few weeks I’ve been up and down the country campaigning, meeting Conservative councillors.
I’ve been struck – as I always am – by their knowledge of the local area, their connection to their constituents and their dedication to making their lives better.
Of course we can trust them with more power and control.
But even if the snobbishness was true, the argument for decentralisation still holds: because if we give more power to local government, if we make it more meaningful…
…then more good people will get involved.
There will be a useful by-product from this redistribution of power to individuals, neighbourhoods, local councils and cities.
When you shift power to the bottom, you reduce the bills at the top.
Today, we’ve got far too many MPs in Westminster.
More people sit in the House of Commons than in any other comparable elected chamber in the world.
This is neither cost effective nor politically effective: just more people finding more interfering ways to spend more of your money.
I think we can do a better job with fewer MPs: we can, to coin a phrase, deliver more for less.
So at the election we will include proposals in our manifesto to ask the Boundary Commission to reduce the House of Commons, initially by ten per cent.
And while they’re at it, to get rid of the unfair distortions in the system today, so that every constituency is the same size in each of the nations of the UK.
But as well as cutting the size of Parliament, we’ve got to reform it too.
Again, the driving principle of reform should be the redistribution of power – from the powerful to the powerless.
That means boosting Parliament’s power to hold the government of the day to account.
The House of Commons’ historic functions were to vote money for governments to spend, and to scrutinise laws.
It now barely bothers with the first, and does the second extremely badly.
There was a time when legislation that had been formulated after months of civil service and ministerial deliberation was sent to the House of Commons which would pore over it, shape it, send it back, get it back, look at it again – and improve it some more.
Bill by Bill. Clause by clause. Line by line.
Every piece of legislation would be put under intense scrutiny.
Is it legally sound? Will it be effective? Is it worth the cost?
Compare that to today.
Let me take you on the journey of a piece of legislation as it passes through the modern House of Commons.
It’s likely to have been dreamt up on the sofa of Number Ten.
A Bill gets drafted.
It’s sent to the House for a couple of hours of routine debate among a few MPs.
Then the bell rings, the whip gets cracked and suddenly, out of nowhere, all these other MPs turn up to vote.
More often than not, they don’t even know what they’re voting for.
The Bill limps through.
Then it goes to the Standing Committee.
Their duty is to look at the details clause by clause.
But it’s packed full of people that the whips put there.
So, surprise, surprise, the Government rarely loses the vote on any of the individual points of detailed scrutiny.
And then it’s back to the House to do it all again – debate, bell and then vote to wave the legislation through.
Every Bill now has a ‘programme motion’ setting out how much time can be spent scrutinising and debating each part.
These are automatic guillotines, and the time allowed for scrutiny is set in advance, before anyone can see whether or not a particular issue is contentious or complex.
Watching a minister in the Commons drawing out one point for an hour to fill the time, to an audience of dozing backbenchers – this is not accountability.
How has the mother of all Parliaments turned itself into such a pliant child?
If we’re serious about redistributing power from the powerful to the powerless, it’s time to strengthen Parliament so it can properly hold the government to account on behalf of voters.
Ken Clarke’s Democracy Task Force made a number of valuable recommendations for strengthening Parliament which we have already accepted as Conservative policy.
The House of Commons should have more control over its own timetable, so there’s time for proper scrutiny and debate.
MPs should be more independent – so Select Committee Chairmen and members should be elected by backbenchers, not appointed by Whips.
And there should be much less whipping during the committee stages of a Bill…
…that’s when you really need proper, impartial, effective scrutiny – not partisan point-scoring and posturing.
The report stage of a Bill should be exactly that: a genuine report to the full House of what the committee thought.
We should also limit the use of the Royal Prerogative, so Parliament is properly involved in all big national decisions…
…and expand the use of confirmation hearings for major public appointments.
Strengthening our Parliament will also require a strong Speaker.
Yes, that means someone with real authority, who commands respect across party lines and amongst the public.
But more than that they need to understand that their first duty is not actually to Parliament – it is to the people Parliament serves.
And so top of any new Speaker’s in-tray must surely be the need to make Parliament more transparent.
Parliament should be the most open, accessible and welcoming institution in the country.
Today, it is one of the least – and that must change.
CURBING THE EXECUTIVE
But it’s not just by decentralizing power and reforming Parliament that we can redistribute power away from an over-mighty executive.
We need to end the culture of sofa government…
…where unaccountable spin doctors in Number Ten, whether it’s Alistair Campbell or Damian McBride…
…toss around ideas and make up policies not to meet the national interest but to hit dividing lines or fit the news cycle.
So we’ll put limits on the number of political advisers, strengthen the Ministerial Code, protect the independence of the Civil Service, and ensure that more decisions are made by the Cabinet as a whole.
We also need to look seriously at the immense power Prime Ministers wield through their ability to call an election whenever they want.
I know there are strong political and moral arguments against fixed-term parliaments.
Political – because there’s nothing worse than a lame-duck government with a tiny majority limping on for years.
And moral – because when a Prime Minister has gone into an election, and won it promising to serve a full term, but hands over to an unelected leader half-way through, the people deserve an election as soon as possible.
These arguments are of course particularly relevant today.
But I believe the arguments for fixed-term parliaments are strengthening too.
Because if we want Parliament to be a real engine of accountability, we need to show that it is not just the creature of the executive.
That’s why a Conservative Government will seriously consider the option of fixed term Parliaments when there is a majority government.
But it is also why a Conservative Government will not consider introducing proportional representation.
The principle underlying all the political reforms a new Conservative Government would make is the progressive principle of redistributing power and control – from the powerful to the powerless.
PR would actually move us in the opposite direction, which is why I’m so surprised it’s still on the wish-list of progressive reformers.
Proportional representation takes power away from the man and woman in the street and hands it to the political elites.
Instead of voters choosing their government on the basis of the manifestos and leadership put before them in an election campaign…
…party managers would choose a government on the basis of secret backroom deals.
How is that going to deliver the transparency and trust we need?
And hybrid systems like AV plus are even worse: they’re not proportional, and represent something of a political fix.
So they have neither the advantage of ‘fairness’ – because they are not proportional…
…nor ‘effectiveness’ – because it becomes harder to remove a government.
THE EU AND THE HRA
But the tragic truth today is that no matter how much we strengthen Parliament or hold government to account…
…there will still be forces at work in our country that are completely unaccountable to the people of Britain.
People and organisations that have huge power and control over our daily lives and yet which no citizen can actually get at.
Almost half of all the regulations affecting our businesses come from the EU.
And since the advent of the Human Rights Act, judges are increasingly making our laws.
The EU and the judges – neither of them accountable to British citizens – have taken too much power over issues that are contested aspects of public policy…
…and which should therefore be settled in the realm of democratic politics.
It’s no wonder people feel so disillusioned with politics and Parliament when they see so many big decisions that affect their lives being made somewhere else.
So a progressive reform agenda demands that we redistribute power from the EU to Britain and from judges to the people.
We will therefore hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, pass a law requiring a referendum to approve any further transfers of power to the EU, negotiate the return of powers, and require far more detailed scrutiny in Parliament of EU legislation, regulation and spending.
And we will introduce a British Bill of Rights to strengthen our liberties, spell out the extent and limit of rights more clearly, and ensure proper democratic accountability over the creation of any new rights.
Everything I’ve spoken about – redistributing power to people, re-instating accountability in our politics…
…all of it will, I hope, help get more people involved in politics and public policy and help end that despairing sense of powerlessness that pervades our society.
But there’s one more item on the agenda: transparency.
Ask most people where politics happens and they’d paint a picture of tight-knit tribes making important decisions in wood-panelled rooms, speaking a strange language.
If we want people to have faith and get involved, we need to defeat this impression by opening politics up – making everything transparent, accessible – and human.
And the starting point for reform should be a near-total transparency of the political and governing elite, so people can see what is being done in their name.
EXPENSES AND SPENDING
First because transparency tears down the hiding places for sleaze, over-spending and corruption.
Soon enough all MPs’ expenses are going to be published online for everyone to see…
…I and the rest of the Shadow Cabinet are already doing it.
And if we win the next election, we’re going to do the same thing for all other public servants earning over £150,000.
Just imagine the effect that an army of armchair auditors is going to have on those expense claims.
Indeed, the promise of public scrutiny is going to have a powerful effect on over-spending of any variety.
A Conservative Government will put all national spending over £25,000 online for everyone to see, so citizens can hold the Government to account for how their tax money is being spent.
And we will extend this principle of transparency to every nook and cranny of politics and public life because it is one of the quickest and easiest ways to transfer power to the powerless and prevent waste, exploitation and abuse.
That’s why, for example, all our Conservative candidates for the European Parliament have signed a pledge setting out new standards of transparency and ethical behaviour.
Every Conservative MEP elected next week will publish online a breakdown of all office costs, all travel, names of each member of staff they employ, and details of all meetings with businesses, lobbyists and other interest groups.
OPENING UP POLITICS
But transparency isn’t just about cleaning up politics, it’s also about opening up politics.
Right now a tiny percentage of the population craft legislation that will apply to one hundred percent of the population.
This locks out countless people across the country whose expertise could help.
So why not invite them in on the process?
We’ll create a right of initiative nationally, where if you collect enough signatures you can get your proposals debated in the House of Commons and become law.
And we’ll open up the legislative process in other ways too.
The way Bills are published online today is stifling innovation and blocking democratic engagement.
So a Conservative government will publish all Parliamentary information online in an open-source format.
This will help people easily access Bills and other legislation in order to create useful applications – like text alerts when something you’re interested in is debated.
And it will mean many more expert eyes helping to explain laws as they’re formed, flagging up flaws and suggestions for improvement.
Anything that acts as a barrier between politics and the public has got to be torn down – including the ridiculous ban on parliamentary proceedings being uploaded to YouTube.
We need a change of government to drive through this transparency agenda because let’s face it, we’re not going to get it from Gordon Brown and the Labour government…
…who tried to block the publication of MPs’ expenses by exempting Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act.
But this spirit of glasnost needs to extend beyond Parliament and throughout our political parties too.
One of the reforms I’m most proud of is the widespread introduction of open primaries for the selection of Conservative parliamentary candidates in recent years.
I want to see that continue, with much greater use of open primaries for the selection of parliamentary candidates – and not just in the Conservative Party, but every party.
In time, this will have a transformative effect on our politics, taking power from the party elites and the old boy networks and giving it to the people.
The lack of power and control people experience in their daily lives was barely tolerable when times were good.
But now times are hard and people are on the receiving end of wage cuts, job losses, negative equity, home repossession and rising crime…
…and revelations about their rulers’ behaviour which has disgusted them…
…they are furious and finally demanding big change.
Today I’m making clear that big change and a new politics is exactly what people can expect from a new Conservative government.
We’ll begin a massive redistribution of power in our country from the powerful to the powerless – from the political elite to the man and woman in the street.
Local control over schools, housing, policing. The right to initiate local and national referenda. More mayors; fewer quangos.
Open primaries for parliamentary candidates. Curbing the power of the whips in parliament and the spin doctors in government. Fewer MPs.
Everything about our political process published online, all the time: the expenses, the spending, the lobbying, parliamentary proceedings, the lot.
That adds up to a serious agenda for a new politics, and it’s one of the reasons why I think the best way of resolving the present crisis is a general election.
Now I know you’ve heard politicians promise this kind of thing before.
But the times are right to do it properly now.
We’re living in an age where technology can put information that was previously held by a few into the hands of almost everyone.
So the argument that has applied for well over a century – that in every area of life we need people at the centre to make sense of the world for us and to make decisions on our behalf – simply falls down.
And in its place rises up a vision of real people power.
This is what we mean by the Post-Bureaucratic Age.
The information revolution meets the progressive Conservative political philosophy…
…sceptical about big state power; committed to social responsibility and non-state collective action.
The effects of this redistribution of power will be felt throughout our politics…
…with people in control of the things that matter to them…
…a country where the political system is open and trustworthy…
…and where power is redistributed from the political elite to the man and woman in the street.