The Centre for Welfare Reform believes that equal citizenship demands democracy and a strong constitution to protect justice and the planet. To achieve this in the UK will require radical constitutional reform.
The multiple injustices we face, from rising homelessness and low paid insecure work, to the denial of welfare support, are symptomatic of a deeper political malaise: the collapse of effective democratic government by gross inequalities of wealth and power. These in turn have triggered a powerful counter-current of populist anger, disillusion and despair with our current system of representative government, increasingly rejected in favour of strong authoritarian government with its simple answers to complex problems.
This pincer movement of populist anger and unaccountable corporate power is lethal to democracy. Piecemeal reform is no longer an option. What is needed is whole scale system change in the form of a modern written constitution that does at least six things:
1. End parliamentary sovereignty
A new constitution must entrench a permanent transfer of power from the London to the regions and nations of the United Kingdom. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must be free to determine their own destiny with the option to secede from the Union.
2. Establish a new Bill of Rights including social rights
A new, human rights framework, must entrench civil and political rights and extend these to include Social Rights to housing, health and welfare support. Disability Rights, the Rights of the Child, the Rights of the Elderly, and other similar rights, which were struck off with the removal of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, must be restored.
3. Protect the rights of nature
In the face of the climate emergency and threatened ecosystem collapse, a future constitution must be a ‘green constitution’ which recognises and protects the life support systems essential to human life. It must also recognise the ‘right to life’ as a right that belongs to all life, not just that of the human species.
4. Put local government on an independent legal footing
Local government must have its own rights and powers over planning, housing and the environment. New powers must include fiscal powers and a new funding formula must be based on agreement with local authority representatives, not unilaterally imposed from above.
5. Restore the Commons
A modern 21st Century conception of ‘The Commons’ is about the creation of a new shared economy which allows flexible forms of community and public ownership. This goes beyond the need to reverse the massive privatisation of land and public services. It is also about collective ownership of renewable energy, banking, social media, software and data. In particular, the new data driven economy is based on personal data which is rightfully owned by us as individuals, not private companies. Such data must be anonymised before being published in the public domain.
6. Create a Citizens Branch
The creation of a 500 strong permanent citizens branch, chosen by sortition every year as guardians of the constitution.
It shall have its own secretariat composed of constitutional and policy experts, academics. It would also have its own media arm, an independent budget and power to:
- Identify strengths and weaknesses of the constitution at an early stage with a view to future amendment
- Commission three citizens assemblies a year (40 to 100 people) a year. Example could include the implications of Artificial Intelligence, genetic engineering, the implications of an ageing society, policy responses wealth inequality. The government of the day will be obliged to co-operate and respond to its recommendations in full but not to enact them.
- Recruit and train cohorts of citizens to sit on all the main departmental executive boards of civil society departments. It will also have a presence on the board of the Bank of England
- Trigger a referendum combined with a citizens assembly in the face of a national crisis. The referendum would be binding on Parliament
The Centre for Welfare Reform continue to work with our allies in civil society to advance the case for radical constitutional reform. We support calls for a constitutional convention or citizen assemblies in order to define and refine the nature of the necessary reforms and support those political movements that advance the causes of social justice and the protection of the planet.
The Centre's Manifesto on Constitutional Reform is led by Gavin Barker. Please contact Gavin directly if you have any suggestions about how to improve our Manifesto.