Democracy begins at home, say political reformers

By staff writers
31 Mar 2010

Following up on a ground-breaking initiative to enlist the 26 Church of England bishops in the House of Lords to back a democratic second chamber in Parliament, the political reform group Power 2010 is now getting the public to appeal to party leaders to "commit for change".

The Power 2010 coalition, which includes the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, wants to see a groundswell of public pressure in the run-up to the general election calling for radical reform of Britain’s political system.

“Democracy begins at home” is their message. From today, those backing reform are being encouraged to co-sign a letter calling for change to Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, with signatories having the chance to add their own personal messages (www.power2010.org.uk/SecondChamber).

“The unelected position of the bishops in a House of Lords run by patronage rather than democratic participation is a litmus test for the government and opposition parties over their seriousness about parliamentary reform,” commented Simon Barrow, co-director of Ekklesia.

“In a matter of days, an unprecedented 63,000 letters have been sent by ordinary members of the public to the bishops in the House of Lords, asking them to support change rather than resisting it. ICM’s poll shows that 70 per cent of Christians want that, too. So far the Lords Spiritual have remained silent. But as the tide of reform sweeps on, neither they nor the party leaders can hope simply to go on ducking the issue,” he added.

“Some have suggested that asking the bishops to support a reformed Second Chamber is like asking turkeys to vote for Christmas,” said Barrow. “On the contrary, our message is that Christmas is coming – so why be a turkey?”

Apart from Iran, Britain is one of the only countries in the world to have unelected representatives of one religious denomination being given the right to vote on legislation affecting the whole country.

In addition, the upper chamber in parliament currently consists of political appointees from the main parties and “a group of aristocrats who have inherited the right to rule”, says Power 2010.

But an ICM opinion poll earlier this month demonstrated that three quarters of the general public and two-thirds of Christians oppose bishops and others figures deciding laws without any democratic accountability.

Now the pressure for change is being extended to the three main party leaders, who have said they want reform but have been slow to show willingness to implement it, say critics.

The letter to party leaders for co-signing can be found here: www.power2010.org.uk/SecondChamber

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