Ed Davey MP – Electoral Reform Society Interview


Ed, thank you very much for
joining us as part of your campaign I know that you’ve always been a big
believer that democracy in the UK needs to change Have you had much interest in
democratic renewal constitutional issues? Oh, yeah. In the hustings we’ve had
questions on electoral form, on written constitution, on devolution power…
So it’s a big issue for the party and one of the reasons I’m a Liberal Democrat is because I want political liberalism and that means quite big constitutional
reforms and well, you know there has been some progress in the last thirty years.
It’s been painfully slow We’ve got a long way to go which we’ll
no doubt talk about now Indeed, and maybe picking up on that point where devolution has taken hold Where do you see the broader devolution
discussion going in the future? I think you should start with local government, and for me if you can get a stronger local democracy I think that will be one of the antidotes to the
whole Leave/Brexit nastiness Clearly that’s not sufficient, but I’m a veteran of
the regional assembly campaign for the North East and I was actually at the count when the people of the North East voted and rejected it in very large numbers One has to learn from that, and the real issue is they didn’t want another load of politicians and I don’t think the move will have changed would be my guess. So as we approach regional devolution and further powers going down
in England, we have to learn from that and think quite hard. We’ve seen
experiments in different parts of the country, particularly city mayors, and the parties have got to work out whether that is one way of doing things. I always have
a problem with mayors if I’m honest with you I think giving one person so much
power can lead to some serious problems There has to be a much deeper debate
in the party. We’ve got to look at all the different options, but we have to
find ways of devolving power I think we’ve just got to grasp this debate
because the disappointment of the North East
assembly referendum is something that I think the party hasn’t really thought
about enough And we’ve just got to get our minds
around alternative solutions because we have to get power down And in terms of there
being a reluctance to get more politicians that’s understandable, but if you’re going to have a certain number you want them to be elected fairly – people get something for it – and I think one of the
achievements of the Liberal Democrat/Labour coalition in Scotland was to
introduce STV for elections and local government in Scotland, and it’s now
had three goes of that. It’s gone very well Did you see that that could be
part of the the solution in England as well? Absolutely. STV PR in local
government is a key strategic play for the Liberal Democrats. One of our big
mistakes in the last 30 years was to think we could go the whole hog straight
away, and if we had got STV PR in local government 25 years ago I would argue
we’d probably now already have STV PR in national government because people get
used to voting systems and it wouldn’t be an issue any longer.
We saw in the AV campaign, “The British people can’t go ‘one, two, three’.” Now we all know
that’s nonsense However, the other side is able to paint
it as some alien force–some dangerous, foreign type of force and all that nonsense. So if
people have got used to voting STV PR in two, three local elections up in Scotland, I think
the case for getting Westminster would just be so easy, and everyone will go, “Oh, of course” So getting STV PR in local
government in England, and obviously in Wales now the power’s being devolved
there, I think is a real strategic goal for the Liberal Democrats and it should be as
soon as we have power, as soon as we have influence, that is one of the top
things we should ask for That’s really encouraging to hear. On devolution just more generally to finish off on that area, the Liberal
Democrats have always set out quite a strong stall on federalism Given the way that devolution has been
developing in Scotland, is there any new fresh thinking or insights that you think the
Liberal Democrats need to be looking at in terms of the politics of the union? Yes, I mean we are a federalist party within the United Kingdom and I think it’s
important to say that and use that word and be clear that’s the principle
guiding us. I think it’s important that we have a constitution so it’s something
beyond the statute that the Scottish Parliament isn’t the creature of the government of the day which I find constantly not good enough It still begs a question – going back to the English devolution – quite how you would do that. I’m not convinced that the experience shows that
if you push things down to people and force them on it that that’s gonna work
and as liberals I think we need it to bubble up more. Maybe we
could do constitutional assemblies, we could do citizens’ juries. There are different ways we might be able to get greater support for this notion. It may be
that as we hopefully stop Brexit and then are influential to try to solve the
causes of Brexit and we want to give people more power and more say and we devolve from Westminster that that debate can get sparked again but I’m
sceptical that you would do it in the old way that we used to imagine. I
remember when the Liberal Democrats published the first ever written constitution back
in 1991 or 1990 I think it was, and it was called ‘We the People’ and it was a wonderful document but it was federalism in its purest sense and time has moved on and
while that’s my ideal, you’ve got to work out how we get there given
the recent history And that leads all nicely – the discussion about citizens’ assemblies – with new ways of doing politics to look more at the
deliberative form and what we’ve all been picking up recently is what
happens in between elections is very important, too. Do you see more use of
deliberate democracy tools? Do you think people are moving
just beyond one way of looking at democracy? I hope so. We’ve got the sort of polarised divide between representative democracy and
direct democracy, and I think our experience with direct democracy recently isn’t a terribly happy one, so there is more innovative approach of deliberative
democracy, participative democracy, however you want to phrase it. I’ve actually
been looking at a number of models around the world about how you engage
citizens more so that they not only are listened to but they actually make
decisions, and there’s a number of experiments including one that took place
around the UK of participatory budgeting where parts of a local authority budget people in the community get to say – not
just councillors but ordinary people – how that money is spent, and I think that’s
something we should look seriously at We obviously need to talk to our local
government family which is so important but you know my experience of lots of the Liberal Democrats and councillors is that they would be open
to new ways of doing things to engage people more, and two examples I’ve
been particularly interested in One is from the first
Muslim mayor of North America who was the mayor of Calgary and then one from Reykjavik in Iceland. The county model is a more simple model where a mayor – a big
political leader – said, “I’m gonna do three things for Calgary. What three things are
you gonna do for Calgary?” And people started saying, “I want to do something for my city” And it worked. He gave permission for people to come forward with ideas and to do stuff and he ensured that where it was required, the city hall facilitated it and that was quite a simple way–it has the
beauty of being simple No structures, no bureaucracy. It’s much,
much easier. That’s one way you might do something Reykjavik–after it had its
political meltdown after the Icelandic banking crisis, they looked really quite deeply at their political models and they created this online
participation platform called ‘Better Reykjavik’, and citizens put forward ideas
and then vote each other’s ones up and down. The most popular ideas go to city council and they have to look at them and then they have to take some more
forward, and in a nearly a decade over 80% of the citizens of Reykjavik got involved at least once on this platform – which I think is a staggering figure – and over 600 projects proposed by citizens of Reykjavik have now been done The other thing we’ve been looking at is how can you get more people both into politics and interested in it? But also you need to
make sure that we’re staffing politics with a much more representative range of
people. I just wondered if you’ve got thoughts about about how to promote more
diversity within the political world and then also thinking of young
people who feel also quite disempowered from the political system–how can we be
getting political education/citizenship from early doors rather than kind of
being seen as an add-on? Well on diversity we’ve got a long, long way to go. There have been improvements–I mean we are a more diverse parliament, lots more diverse
than it was, but progress has been slow including the Liberal Democrats. So
while we’ve always been champions of diversity and equality, actually in our own
house we’ve not been quite as good as we need to be We’ve previously been against all-women shortlists. I deem them illiberal and I remember my wife being very strongly against them and she stood for Parliament four times so she has a particular axe to grind but when it came up last time when we went for all-woman shortlists I just felt we have to do it because we
just hadn’t made the progress we needed to It was just a simple fact, and we’d how seen they’d worked for Labour – not without controversy – but it had to be done. So we’re now in the process of making progress and if we win a lot more seats
next time as I’m sure we will do We’ll see the parliamentary party
far more gender balanced as it absolutely needs to be. It has to be at least 50/50 as
soon as possible in my view, but in terms of other diversities, we’ve still got a
long way to go from LGBT+ to black and ethnic minorities to disabled
representatives. We are just behind the times, and we’ve got to do a lot more. Part of it, I think, is leaders – senior politicians – going out asking people, even people with confidence to stand, so I like to think that’s one thing
I’ve managed to achieve in my own constituency. We’re getting women and
black and ethnic minorities in particular to stand for council, so we’ve got a
majority women Kingston Council and majority women leadership group and the first Korean councillor ever So that’s taken quite some effort, but if
leaders actually go out and say to people “You know what, I think you could be a councillor, I think you could be an MP,” it gives people that degree of confidence. I visit
lots of schools and colleges and universities and there are lots of young
people interested in politics probably now more than they were 10 years ago
with issues like Brexit and climate change really firing people up, and to see the young people striking on climate change was absolutely dreamy.
I was so pleased that they did. Just huge congratulations to them, and that people
complained about them… It’s just not understanding where society needs to go, and it was an educational opportunity to see people getting involved.
We should do more within schools A lot does go on. I’ve seen some
fantastic education about politics and civic life in local schools. I’m
absolutely sure there should be more In Scotland where they’ve
had votes at 16, for example, and then there was a big event like a referendum
and followed on with extra elections that younger people could vote in, and they were getting those kind of discussions happening at school. They did flow over into the family home Getting political debate and discussion, and that rises all votes and the democratic tides, I guess So yet another reason for votes at sixteen. I didn’t need convincing but you’ve give me another reason Very good. We’ll finish off now, Ed, talking about the institutions–the two big
institutions. One of our big campaigns has been against the House of
Lords and its current state How do you see how House of Lords reform take the next step? My view is the Liberal Democrats should be
the champions of reforming the House of Lords, and yes, it should be STV PR and
yes, it should happen and it was one of the most frustrating parts of the
coalition that the Tories reneged on their promise on House of Lords reform.
House of Lords reform is turning out to be one of the most difficult reforms in our
country. How many times has it been tried? And there have been unholy alliances
to stop it. But we should keep trying It’s essential in my view. Fully elected–
I’m not one of these people who thinks it should be partial or those sorts of things. My only compromise would be that you might allow some people to have speaking rights, not voting rights, so if you wanted a group
that’s either already there or you think they’re really important, you can give
them speaking rights Which sort of counters the expertise saying that gets thrown up as a reason for keeping over 800 people for life in the chamber It’s expensive, it’s ridiculous. We should
surely be more serious about politics Incredibly, it’s nearly a decade
since the 2010 election which was one of the last times that democratic issues
for reform was were on the agenda Are these the sort of topics that we
should be able to rely on the Liberal Democrats to bring fully to the table? Of course. The idea that we would not pursue that constitutional form of agenda of the Lords, of the voting system, the House of Commons with as much effort and energy as we can… Clearly we have to and
in a way the experience of Brexit which shows I think our democracy going
backwards has given another lease of life. It does
feel to me that many people sign up to the statement ‘politics is broken’.
And when you’ve got that mood then there is a chance for reform, and we
need to find that and use this current political debate and the current fallout
from Brexit, so here’s an opportunity to make some deeper, deeper reforms, and
because we’ve got the case to make we can say that if we’d proportional representation, this wouldn’t have happened and so on. So I do think there is a
chance which we have to grasp I always caution one little bit which is
my tactics about making sure you do the things that you know you can achieve
more quickly which will help you longer term Which is why I talked about STV PR in local government –a sort of early win Get that in and then you can keep
planning everything else And if we made a mistake in the
coalition on electoral reform, it was to have the referendum in 2011 I’m sure wise heads will review that over the years, but it did feel we rushed
into it, and a bit more experience of government, I think, would have been better In the intervening years with Brexit, as you mentioned, actually it’s reinforced why these things are important so we do need
parties like the Liberal Democrats and leaders like you to be pushing that the
whole time if we’re gonna get the change we so desperately need I would add something else though, and that is the power of the Commons. The Brexit process, I think, has exposed the weaknesses of Parliament and even when a government doesn’t have a majority as weak as Theresa May’s, it’s been
impossible for Parliament to grab hold of the business. We’ve had
amazingly lurid debates and massive claims over how awful it was that the
MPs want to decide their own business Are people not astonished by this? It just shows what a completely weak organisation Parliament is, so the
biggest reform I’d like to see after changing the voting system for the House of Commons is to reform the way MPs look at spending proposals It was a hundred years ago this
year when it was the last time that MPs rejected a spending request so that
government of the day and in the century afterwards we’ve let billions of pounds go
through without any scrutiny whatsoever That is a massive failure in
our political system. It means MPs never get their hands dirty, never have to work hard.
We need to change that in my view It just seems to me that MPs
should have not just more control over the way they do their business, but
to be able to scrutinise the budget far more, and they need resources to do that. In the United States they have of the Congressional Budget Office – incredibly
significant – and if you look at other legislatures, they’ve got far more
resources for MPs to propose, “No, don’t spend that money there–that’d be a bad
idea. Spend that money over here.” While that might seem very boring for some people, to me it goes to the heart of what we need to do and it would be one
way of restoring confidence in Parliament, and if you don’t do this it
actually gives the Civil Service more power. The argument is in this way
because ministers don’t have to defend that budget in Parliament properly –
because Parliament can’t hold them to account – they never get to see what their
budget really is. And when I was a Secretary of State the only time I was ever really allowed
to make budget decisions was at the end of the year when there was a little bit of
change left and they were trying to work out how to spend it and not give it back to the Treasury ????? gives me a few options So I make lots of very important decisions that were about 10 or 20 million pounds but there’s sort of five billion
pounds ????? baked in And the system just doesn’t work …And could give meaning to the
phrases such as ‘Take Back Control’–actual practical suggestions Yes, precisely. When
people say, “We want sovereignty of Parliament,” I normally say, “I wish we
had some.” Because Parliament isn’t sovereign Not in the way that people
think about that word, because Parliament doesn’t control the executive. The executive decides what the business is The executive decides how money is spent, not Parliament Ed Davey, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts You’ve got a full agenda of things to work on if you get the chance and we wish you well Thank you very much indeed.
Thank you

1 thought on “Ed Davey MP – Electoral Reform Society Interview

  1. I call for a debate on the Criminalisation of ALL Military Establishments and ALL Manufacturers of WMD NOW

    https://www.facebook.com/groups/CriminaliseMilitaryForum/?ref=bookmarks

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