Ordinary citizens, and not just politicians, should have a real say in the way our political system is run. The more people are aware of and involved in what goes on in Parliament, the better, which is why I am pushing for constitutional reform and for better engagement with the voting public – not just in the run up to elections, but all the time. I have laid out below some of the actions I have taken to try to make politics more engaging and accessible and to make politicans more accountable to you.
As part of my commitment to more open democracy and increased representation, I am holding regular E-consultation sessions with contituents. The way it works is simple – from time to time I will send an e-mail to those who are willing to take part, asking their views on a particular issue. Topics will range from the local to the national, and those who want more detail on the issue in question will be referred to websites where there is balanced information on each side of the argument. Constituents are then invited to vote on the issue, usually with a simple yes/no answer. Those who wish to are also invited to give reasons for their decision.
To read the results of past e-consultations, or to join up to be part of future ones, please follow the link below.
The recent scandals over MPs’ expenses have been undermining trust in politics. I understand the public’s anger and frustration about how the House of Commons is dragging its feet on getting the expenses regime cleaned up, and how those who flout the rules seem to get away with it. In Parliament I have been raising the concerns I have about the expenses regime for nearly two years, but sadly not all MPs have shared these concerns and seen the need for radical changes. I have also been voluntarily publishing my expenses on this website since April 2008. Please follow the link below to view my expenses and to find out more about what I have been doing to promote transparency and reform of the expenses system.
Right of Recall
As Members of Parliament, our job is to work for constituents. You are able to hire us. However, unlike most bosses, you only get the opportunity to fire us once every five years. I believe this is wrong, especially if MPs are guilty of sleaze or significant wrong-doing and constituents feel they can do nothing about it. That is why I am calling for the introduction of a ‘Right of Recall’, whereby constituents, if enough of them signed a petition, would be able to fire their MP and call a by-election. The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has pledged that a right of recall will be introduced next year.
Above, you can view a video of me in the House of Commons in February 2009, calling for the Right of Recall to be introduced.
Jo’s news stories on the Right of Recall
Our voting system is inherently flawed. Every five years, members of the electorate cast their votes and still the majority of people end up with a representative who does not represent their views. It is hardly any wonder that many people are discouraged from voting when we have a system which ensures that many people’s votes make no difference. The last time 50% of the electorate voted for the party who ended up forming a government was in 1935. Only 35% of voters voted for Labour in 2005, but yet once again they emerged with a big enough majority of MPs to overrule the rest of Parliament.
The Liberal Democrats have long argued for a fairer voting system, where the numbers of MPs from each party more accurately reflect the votes cast. As part of the coalition government we have been successful in securing a commitment to a referendum on introducing the Alternative Vote (AV) for Westminster elections. Although AV isn’t proportional, it would be a significant improvement on the system we have at the moment. It maintains the constituency link, but allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference and ensures that all MPs must have the support of at least 50% of their constituents to get elected.
Jo’s news stories on electoral reform
External news stories on electoral reform
The devolution of powers from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 was a welcome and long-overdue move, bringing government closer to the people it serves. However, more powers should be devolved of Scotland, and indeed to Wales and England. In particular, Holyrood should have the power to control how it raises money as will as how it spends it. The Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference 2009 gave full support to the conclusions of the Calman Commission on Scottish devolution and I’m deligted that the coalition government has now committed to impliment those proposals. Please use the following links to find out more about the Calman Commission and Liberal Democrat policy.
- Liberal Democrat Conference backs plans to devolve more powers to Scotland and Wales
- Read the Calman Commission report
Jo’s news stories on devolution
I believe it is vitally important for ordinary citizens’ to have a say in the political process, which is why I am calling on the Government to support the creation of a Citizen’s Convention. This would be an assembly of around 100 men and women selected much like juries are, from the electoral role. It would be charged with making recommendations to Parliament on how the institutions and practices of British politics can be improved. Once a recommendation was made, Parliament would have to debate it within three months. While it could reject such a proposal, it would then have to be put to a national referendum if either the Convention itself or 5% of the public petitioned for one to be held. The excellent campaigning group Unlock Democracy has been campaigning for just such a Convention to be set up, which has now taken the form of the Citizens Convention (Accountability and Ethics) Bill. East Dunbartonshire residents who participated in my recent e-consultation on this subject were also overwhelmingly in favour of the idea. Using the following links, you can find out more about the campaign and follow the progress of the Bill through Parliament.
Jo’s news stories on a citizens’ convention
House of Lords reform
It absolutely unacceptable that in the 21st century, the UK still has a second chamber which is totally unelected. The reforms introduced by New Labour in 1997 were welcome, but did not go nearly far enough. In March 2007, MPs in the House of Commons voted in favour of a 100% elected House of Lords, and while Justice Minister Jack Straw has promised to uphold this decision, nothing has been done about it. I firmly believe that a wholly elected House of Lords is the only kind of second chamber which is fit for Britain in this day and age. In the video above, you can see me in the House of Commons in February 2009 calling on Jack Straw to make good on his promise.
The coalition government has committed to make the House of Lords either wholly or partly elected by proportional representation. A cross-party committee will investigate how the reforms could go ahead and will present MPs with its proposals by December 2010.
Jo’s news stories on House of Lords reform
People and Parliament Inquiry
The House of Lords information committee recently conducted an inquiry into how Parliament can better engage with the voting public, entitled “People and Parliament”. Members of the public were invited to submit their views to the inquiry. Unlike most Parliamentary inquiries, however, this was the first one to receive evidence from witnesses via YouTube.
I decided to use this opportunity to put across my suggestions as to how Parliament can get ordinary people more involved in the political process. You can see my YouTube submission to the inquiry above.
In line with my suggestions the inquiry found that the people should be able to share video clips of Parliament online, and embed them on their websites. It also recommended that Bills be published online in a more accessible form, together with more explanatory information and details of amendments, which the Free Our Bills campaign has been calling for.
Jo’s news stories on the People and Parliament inquiry
Parliament on YouTube
As ridiculous as it might seem, until recently the House of Commons did not allow clips of Parliamentary proceedings to be shown and shared on YouTube and other ‘third party’ sites, except for select clips it chooses to share on its own Parliament YouTube channel. The rules were recently changed so that MPs can post clips on video-sharing sites, but only under certain strict conditions, and members of the public are still not allowed to share clips on their websites. This makes Westminster the only legislative body in the UK which you cannot share clips of on your website. In this day and age when more and more people are getting their news and information online, I believe this rule simply has change, which is why I have been campaigning to put an end to this ban.
- Read Jo’s article in the New Statesman about the Parliamentary YouTube ban
- Join the campaign on Facebook
Parliamentary authorities are now in negotiations with Broadcasters to further relax the rules for posting clips of Parliament online.
In response to a Parliamentary question I asked in November 2009, the Leader of the House of Commons Harriet Harman agreed to look into whether people could be allowed to embed Parliamentary video clips on their own websites. When I wrote to Harriet Harman to follow this up, I received a response from the Deputy Leader, Barbara Keeley.
The response says that Parliamentary authorities are now negotiating for a further change in the rules. Any decision would still have to be approved by several different bodies (such is the way of parliament – everything moves very slowly!) but it seems the Parliamentary authorities may finally be seeing the light!
On 15th October 2010, I wrote to the new Leader of the House, Sir George Young MP to ask about the progress on changes to the licensing arrangements under the new Government. He told me that allowing members of the public to embed video clips of Parliament on their websites is being trialled until June 2011, after which it is expected that embedding will be a permanent feature built into the new licences.
What you can do: ask your MP to join the campaign!
I tabled a Parliamentary motion in November calling on the Government to review the rules so that footage of Parliament can be widely viewed on the internet, using YouTube and other sites. Using the link below, you can write to your MP to ask them to sign this motion – called Early Day Motion 211 – and support the campaign. The more MPs who sign it the better, so get typing!
Jo’s news stories on axeing the Parliamentary YouTube ban
External news stories on the YouTube campaign
Politics and New Media
It has almost become a cliche to point out that the way we communicate with each other in the modern world has been revolutionised by new technology. This is changing at an ever-increasing pace, and yet so far few politicians are making good use of tools such as social networking, blogging and other interactive web-based technologies to communicate with their constituents.
A recent report by the Hansard Society, ‘MPs Online: Connecting with Constituents’ found that while MPs are gradually getting better at using social networking sites, they are ‘talking, not listening’. Another report by the Hansard Society, ‘MPs on Facebook’ found that 69% of Liberal Democrat MPs who have active Facebook accounts are likely to use the website for two-way communication, just 41% of Conservatives and 37% of Labour do the same. The great thing about ‘New Media’ is that it offers many interactive tools which allow us not just to put information out there, but to hear people talk back to us. We must harness this to improve communication between MPs and their constituents.
Jo’s news stories on politics and new media
Free Our Bills Campaign
Free Our Bills is a campaign run by the volunteers at My Society (see my featured links below for more of their fantastic work), which they describe as “The nice polite campaign to gently encourage Parliament to publish bills in a 21st Century way, please.”
At the moment, looking at bills which are going through Parliament means searching the Parliament website and scrolling through long documents which are difficult to find, difficult to read and difficult to do anything clever with. This is an old-fashioned way of publishing documents which means public scrutiny is not as easy as it could be. What the Free Our Bills Campaign proporsals is that bill texts should be published in a new electronic format which would improve accessibility and public scrutiny of legislation. The campaign website offers an excellent explanation of how this would make things easier, which you can read by following the links below.
The coalition agreement drawn up in May 2010 contains a commitment to introduce a “Public Reading Stage” for bills. This would allow members of the public to view a bill online, and to make amendments, which would then have to be debated by MPs before a bill is passed. This would be a large part of the change that the Free Our Bills campaign is calling for. I will be putting pressure on the government to make sure this change is introduced as soon as possible.
Engaging young people in politics
Until recently, I was the youngest MP in Parliament, but I believe that at 29, I was too old to be holding this title! I am passionate about getting young people more involved in politics and the running of our communities, whether it is by visiting Parliament and learning about how it works, engaging in political debate, carrying out local volunteer work, voting or even standing for election. Please follow the link below to find out more about what I have been doing to involve young people in politics.
Jo’s featured links
They work for you
TheyWorkForYou is a website run by the charity mySociety which aims to bridge the growing democratic disconnect between public and parliament. It does this by allowing people to keep tabs on their elected MPs, and their unelected Peers, and comment on what goes on in Parliament.
mySociety is a non-profit based charity which runs most of the best-known democracy and transparency websites in the UK such as TheyWorkForYou and WriteToThem.
Unlock Democracy is the UK’s leading campaign for democracy, rights and freedoms. It is a grassroots movement campaigning for: Fair, Open and Honest Elections; Rights, Freedoms and a Written Constitution; Stronger Parliament and Accountable Government; Bringing Power Closer to the People; A Culture of Informed Political Interest and Responsibility
Hear From Your MP
Hear From Your MP is a website which provides a communication channel between MPs and constituents by providing mailing lists linked with online discussion forums.
Write To Them
Write to Them is a website which makes it easier for people to contact their MPs, previously known as FaxYourMP.com
Fix My Street
FixMyStreet is a new web-based mapping tool to make it easy for people to talk to their local authority and other local people about broken civic infrastructure in their neighbourhood
38 Degrees is a new organisation which brings people together to take action on the issues that matter to them and to bring about real change in the UK. They act to advance fairness, defend rights, promote peace, preserve the planet and deepen democracy in the UK through for example online petitions or enabling people to email their MP or the editor of a local paper.
Electoral Reform Society
The Electoral Reform Society is campaigning to change the way we choose our politicians. They believe that a fair voting system will improve our democracy, allow politicians to better represent the public and help them to tackle the serious issues facing our society.