The coalition government formed in May 2010 with a weight of expectation that there would be change in our politics. With the political class still reeling from the MPs’ expenses scandal, an outraged public demanding change, and the first coalition government since the Second World War which included the Liberal Democrats, radical change in British politics seemed both inevitable and necessary.
Instead what has been delivered is a series of half-reforms, lip service, and failure. Britain is no more democratic and British politicians are no more accountable than five years ago.
The House of Lords remains a bloated collection of retired MPs, aristocrats, bishops, and party donators, dispersed with an odd collection of single-issue policy experts. There is clear public demand for an elected House of Lords, but the Coalition has become yet another government which has failed to deliver (although the blame can’t fully lie with the government, the Labour opposition voting against the Coalition’s House of Lord’s reforms in 2012 was a shameful act of playing party politics).
The MPs’ expenses scandal showed quite how unaccountable our politicians were between elections. An MP could fiddle their expenses and yet, unless they were jailed for more than 12 months, they could continue to represent their constituents in parliament while taxpayers paid them for the pleasure of doing so.
The coalition promised recall elections, where constituents could gather enough signatures to force a by-election in cases of serious wrong doing. Instead the Coalition’s reforms, in the words of Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, 'fall scandalously short'. Goldsmith argues 'they don't empower voters in any meaningful sense at all, and at the very first scandal, they will realise they have been duped'. The system introduced by the Coalition was one where a committee of MPs must first vote if there should be a recall election, but turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.
Whoever forms the government in May 2015 needs to be brave in reforming British democracy. The House of Lords isn’t fit for a 21st century democracy, Parliament needs to be made more accessible and accountable to the public, while devolution needs a permanent solution.
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