A resolution on the constitutional crisis of the British state submitted by Alastair Stephens, passed at Counterfire National Conference 2015
This conference notes:
- The Scottish referendum has triggered a constitutional crisis that has been brewing for some time. Though at present on the back burner due to a general election campaign that will centre on economic questions, it will return and will most likely lead to major change of some kind.
- The Tories will try and push this in a more undemocratic direction trying to bring in EVEL (English Votes for English Laws) and foisting undemocratic mayors on various parts of the country.
EVEL is particularly undemocratic as it's a power grab by the Tories hoping to both maintain the union but to deny Labour the ability to form a UK government.
It would in effect create a rump parliament which would reproduce all the problems of the present House of Commons in a more concentrated form.
- The Tories' plans are already resulting in local battles - for instance over the undemocratic mayor they are trying to foist on Greater Manchester.
- Labour's position is unclear. They are promising a constitutional referendum but have proposed little concrete. There is no indication though that they will break in any real way with the present set up, undemocratic even by the standards of western democracy.
- Britain was long been the most centralised country in Europe. All power has been centralised in the government, elected by a decidedly undemocratic electoral system. Devolution only slightly altered this arrangement, few real powers being given away. But political life is more democratic and enlivened in the devolved countries where political life has parted company with England more and more. Both have moved decisively to the left.
- Democratic institutions have been emptied of power and the party system hollowed out. Membership of the major parties has plummeted and support is weak. A multi-party system is emerging even despite First Past The Post.
Neoliberalism made massively more undemocratic a state already barely reformed.
That process has been further accelerated by the growth of unchecked corporate power and The City, international bodies like the EU and the WTO.
The effects of neoliberal reform have also hollowed out civil society and enormously weakened the workers movement, previously a counter-balance in capitalist society. The continuous shift to right by the Labour Party and it's surrender to neoliberalism has eroded its membership, activist base and electorate, disillusioned by the lack of a real alternative to the Tories.
This conference believes that:
- Socialists have always been at the forefront of the struggle for political democracy. The political structures of society do matter.
- In the upcoming constitutional arguments socialists should argue for reforms that would strengthen the democratic process and encourage mass involvement in politics.
What a left programme of democratic reform might look like has not been discussed much as yet but would include demands such as restoration of local councils, regional government with real power over issues such education and housing, PR for local and national elections and abolishing the House of Lords.
It might also address issues such as the Royal prerogative, the privy council, governmental secrecy or the established church.
- The referendum campaign in Scotland and the subsequent enormous growth of party membership of the pro-independence parties and the general rise in political activism shows politics is not dead and the deadening effects of neoliberalism can be reversed.
This conference resolves that:
- Counterfire should argue for democratic reform that extends democracy and sweeps away the most antiquated and undemocratic features of the state, in particular the electoral system and devolution of power away from Westminster in England.
- That members involve themselves in campaigns where there is a base of support for them.
- We support the campaign for full Home Rule for Scotland as promised and continue to stress the desirability of ending the union.
Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.