Monday, 20 January 2014

Let's Establish a People's Parliament.

This is an article of mine that was published today in the Guardian's Comment is Free section.

The 2015 election debate is in the gutter. Time for the People's Parliament

The media and main political parties are serving us up rubbish, so we are opening up parliament's rooms for truly public debate

There are meeting rooms in parliament. Let's use them and bring some real politics to the place.'
Are we really going to allow the debate in the runup to the general election be dominated by the bigotry of Ukip against migrants, the vile hounding of anyone on benefits by the Tories, and the timidity of many in the Labour leadership about saying anything of purpose and principle?

Benefits Street is just the latest example of the poison pouring daily out of our televisions, radio phone-ins and papers like the Sun and Mail – poison that is dictating the electoral agenda of the political strategists of the main parties, and manipulating the fears and insecurity of people in order to smokescreen the corporate kleptocracy that we inhabit.

It degrades and demeans us all if we allow this politics to dominate and go unchallenged. Anyone with any claim to decency has a responsibility now to stand up against this debased politics.

One way of taking a stand is to positively determine to engage in real politics and cut through the crap served up to us by this coalition of the craven.

With months to go before the next election we should be entering a period of intense debate about the state of the country and the politics we want. This hasn't taken off yet, and usually the last place to look for this is in parliament itself, with its sterile knockabout politics.

So how do we liven up the political debate in the runup to the election, while also giving it some depth?

When I was part of the left that took control of the Greater London Council in the 1980s, I was worried at how lacking in radicalism the incoming Labour group on the GLC actually was. So, in order to generate the ideas needed to stimulate and sustain a radical administration, we decided to throw open the doors of County Hall to anyone who wanted to convene a meeting to generate support for a policy or a campaign.

We turned it into a People's County Hall where meeting rooms became the forums for groups across the capital to debate and promote an idea for the future of London. The concept really took off, and virtually every day groups were meeting to develop their ideas into policies. You could open a committee room door at County Hall and bump into a group of people arguing about anything from bus fares policy to community arts and policing. There were heated arguments, hilarious moments when high-flown theoretical analysis imploded, and also examples of magnificent creativity.

This was politics at its rumbustious, exhausting, enjoyable – and at times infuriating – best. Isn't that the sort of feverish political debate we need to influence the period in which party manifestos are being formulated?

Just like at the GLC's County Hall, there are meeting rooms in parliament. Let's use them and bring some real politics to the place. Let's make the place a People's Parliament.

Since I first suggested this, lots of people have responded with proposals on what to discuss and who to talk to. So over the next couple of months we're making a start by hosting a number of gatherings in parliament on a wide range of issues that people have suggested.

People are posing hard case questions. After Russell Brand's proclamation of the no-vote strategy, people want to know what sort of democracy we need then. In the week we are about to see the return of bankers' obscene bonuses, and people are asking how they have got away with it and how we can wrest control of our economy from these tax-evading looters. As the prime minister gives his full backing to fracking while homes are still being dried out from the floods, people are asking what will it take to wake people up again to climate change fears.

The aim is to break through the defeatism that is overpowering even those political parties, movements and individuals that have traditionally stood up for change.

The discussions are open to anyone. Check out the information on the website, or on Twitter: @pplparliament. Come and have a say.

No comments:

Post a Comment