“The role of leaders is not to get other people to follow them but to empower others to lead”. ~ Bill George
Traditionally the Liberal Democrats have been viewed as the party of constitutional reform, mainly because of a passion for electoral reform, though whether that passion is borne of true idealogical zeal or simply from political practicalities is uncertain.
However, the Liberal Democrats have all but disappeared as a force that can dominate and dictate a debate ,with the possible exception of Brexit, where they have a coherent narrative, no doubt made easier by only having 8 MPs initially, with that number now swelling to 9.
Labour has recently managed to seize some of that momentum with its motion to force the Government to reveal the Brexit strategy to MPs being voted through and the Government conceding despite having consistently suggested it wouldn’t by firmly repeating the narrative that they would not give a “running commentary” on any negotiations or strategy (presumably because it would be difficult to give a running narrative on what is clearly a non-existent strategy). This momentum could be capitalised upon.
Constitutional issues have arguably never been as popular a topic for many following the referendum on membership of the European Union and the subsequent court case to decide if parliament has to authorise any deal rather than the executive simply signing it off. People have been alerted to the importance of our constitution with the papers whipping up a frenzy most well illustrated by the Daily Mail joining the likes of Stalin by describing the judges who decided the first court case as “enemies of the people”. Whilst such language isn’t helpful or fair, it does generate interest and passion and that’s something constitutional debate has lacked for a significant period of time, mostly being dominated by the intelligentsia and other sad people like me who find the topic fascinating.
The constitution is a massively important part of our democracy, deciding not only the practicalities of governance, but also laying a base line of morals and ethics. So any opportunity that is presented to be able to start a real debate with the country over this issue should be taken and Labour could and should be the leading voice in this debate.
That debate shouldn’t be stifled simply into what form of electoral system we should use though that should of course form part of the debate (For me it’s time for a PR system but that’s probably another article in itself!), but also whether we should grow into a country with a written constitution or whether we keep having an overly complex and lengthy constitution that recognises our countries history and tradition. Do we write in a contract with the British people so they know exactly what to expect from the state and what the state should expect back from them (If you’ve read my previous article on social contracts you’ll be able to guess my opinion on this).
The cynical practicalist in you may be suggesting there isn’t that many votes in electoral reform but there are two strong counterpoints to this.
One is that the Liberal Democrats had the badge as the party of such reform and parties don’t get such a title if it doesn’t actually mean anything.Iit’s the same reason Labour got known as the anti-fox hunting party. It led the debate on the topic for a long time and people did vote for the party, mainly because of that issue. Now, you may say that being the party of constitutional reform didn’t protect Lib Dems from the disaster that befell them after 2015, but nothing could protect a party who so abruptly turned against its own anti-establishment narrative it had built up over decades by siding with the most pro-establishment party in the Conservatives. It also didn’t help that they undermined the half decent job they had done to be considered principled when they backtracked so easily (in public perception at least) on tuition fees.
Constitutional reform can form part of a larger narrative and one that fits in well with the story that is currently being built about empowering communities and citizens and having a more equal and fair society. What could be more symbolic of empowerment than starting a debate about the rules and structures of the system, about what obligations the state owes we as citizens and the duties we owe to each other? We could do a lot worse than handing over the drivers that establish a base line for those that represent us by making sure we, the people, are the determining factor in establishing those parameters.