The Power Inquiry is an independent inquiry set up by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust to investigate why engagement with formal democratic politics in Britain was declining and what could be done to reverse the trend. The report of the Power Inquiry, “Power to the People”, was launched on 27 February 2006
The report is not only highly independent, but is also supportive of the Liberal Democrat position on a wide range of issues, including electoral reform, a more democratic House of Lords, the decentralisation of power, votes at 16 and state funding of political parties. It draws a high degree of authority, from some 1,500 public submissions as well as surveys and hearings held in the UK during a 12-month inquiry.
A summary of the report and its recommendations are below.
The inquiry found that disengagement from Britain¡¦s democratic system was caused by:
- citizens feeling that formal democratic processes did not offer them enough influence over political decisions,
- the main political parties being perceived as too similar and lacking in principle,
- the electoral system being perceived as leading to unequal and wasted votes,
- citizens being required to commit to too broad a range of policies,
- people feeling they lack information or knowledge about formal politics,
- voting procedures being regarded by some as inconvenient and unattractive.
The report advocates a three-pronged response:
- a rebalancing of power away from the executive and unaccountable bodies towards Parliament and local government;
- the introduction of greater responsiveness and choice into the electoral and party systems;
- allowing citizens a much more direct and focused say over political decisions and policies.
The report makes 30 specific recommendations. These include:
- Replacing first-past-the-post with a “more responsive electoral system” for elections to the House of Commons, House of Lords and local councils in England and Wales (full report says “Current thinking seems to suggest that [our] goals could be best achieved by the Single Transferable Vote system, but we have no firm views on this.”)
- A House of Lords of which 70% of its members should be elected.
- An unambiguous decentralisation of powers from central to local government, and local government having enhanced powers to raise taxes and administer its own finances.
- Reduction of the voting age to 16.
- Automatic voter registration.
- A cap on donations to political parties, and state funding – directed by voters through a voucher system – for political parties.
- Give citizens given the right to initiate legislative processes, public inquiries and hearings into public bodies.
- A new National Statistical and Information Service.
- The creation of ‘Democracy hubs’ in communities to help people navigate the democratic system.
The report calls for an alliance to be built between the most clear-sighted MPs, local councillors, MEPs and members of the devolved institutions, but says only a sustained campaign from outside the democratic assemblies and parliaments of the UK will ensure that meaningful reform occurs.
The full text of the executive summary appears in the appendix. Further information, including the full text of the report, is available from the Power Inquiry website: www.powerinquiry.org.