Unlock Democracy is a grassroots campaign for democratic reform and participation. We campaign for voting reform, transparent and accountable government, and including women and young people in our political system.
Guest blog from Tom Pratt chair of Unlock Democracy Birmingham and Make Votes Matter activist
What connects the Green Party Leader, Liberal Democrat and Conservative members of the House of the Lords, a UKIP MEP, the head of the Local Government Association, the Wessex Regionalists Party and Members of Parliament from Plaid Cymru, the Scottish National Party and Labour?
Guest blog Vicky Seddon chair of Sheffield for Democracy and Unlock Democracy council member
If George Osborne’s colleagues at the Department for Business Innovation and Skills had wanted to undermine the “Northern Powerhouse” project, this was very effective way to go about it: announce that its current 13 regional offices will be reduced to 6, and that the current Sheffield office would not be one of those 6 but would close. The reaction has been predictable: shock and horror.
The Trade Union Bill’s one-sided changes to party funding are finally getting some of the scrutiny they need. On Wednesday, the House of Lords struck a small blow by voting to set up a cross-party Select Committee to consider the Bill’s impact and what other reforms are needed to clean up party funding in the UK.
In the first week back after Christmas, MSPs debated a Bill to introduce a lobbying register designed to let ordinary people know who is trying to influence our politicians. During the debate, we heard powerful calls from MSPs - including the influential Standards Committee - to expand the register so that it gives a clear picture of lobbying activity. But we also heard some pretty wild statements about the impact of a lobbying register. To set the record straight we’ve busted five myths about the proposed lobbying register.
The changes made to party funding in the Trade Union Bill will make elections less competitive. This Bill will slash union donations to Labour while wealthy donors are free to plough cash into Conservative party coffers.
Free and fair elections require a level playing field for all political parties. The party funding system is crying out for reform, but changes must be agreed by all parties. The government should not be allowed to rewrite the rules for its own party political gain. Real transparency means looking at both sides of the party funding equation - not just unions, but wealthy donors too.
Last week, the Scottish Parliament debated the government’s proposals for a lobbying register. These plans have been a long time coming - we started campaigning for a lobbying register back in 2013! The debate was encouraging but underlined the work still to be done to secure a strong register.
While welcoming the Liverpool City Region (LCR) Devolution Agreement between the Liverpool City Region, HM Treasury and the Department of Communities and Local Government, the Group agreed that the current arrangement should only be a precursor to a stronger devolution package. It was a promising start but with regard to scrutiny there was still a long way to go.
Today the government published Lord Strathclyde’s review of the powers of the House of Lords, which recommends that the Lords’ power to reject secondary legislation be replaced with the power to send back secondary legislation once to the Commons for a vote, after which it would be passed automatically. This would significantly weaken the powers of the House of Lords in relation to secondary legislation, which typically receives little or no scrutiny in the House of Commons.