In his first speech of the general election campaign Jeremy Corbyn criticised the establishment and their unfair ‘rules’ that he says currently govern politics. He went on to say: ‘It is these rules that have allowed a cosy cartel to rig the system in favour of a few powerful and wealthy individuals and corporations.’ Here at Unlock Democracy we have decades of experience fighting for a fairer system that gives power to the people not elites. If Corbyn is serious about fixing the system, then this is what he needs to do.
Kick big money out of politics
Part of the reason millionaires have so much influence over politicians is because they are bankrolling them! The Tories, Labour, the SNP, and the Lib Dems have all received single donations of £1 million or over from wealthy individuals in the past three years. In fact, Labour received the largest donation of over £2 million for Lord Sainsbury. Transparency rules are meant to help us see who might have undue influence on our politicians, but as we point out in our guide on ‘how to be a dodgy party donor’ there are plenty of ways around them. We need to a low cap on donations to end the influence of party donors once and for all. We need alternative means of funding political parties that encourage parties to appeal to a large number of ordinary people not a handful of rich donors. Will Corbyn commit to this?
End lobbying loopholes
Rich corporations buy influence is through lobbying, and big business channels huge sums of money towards efforts to influence policy makers, drowning out the voices of charities, NGOs and the people. Lobbyists have a whole range of sneaky tactics they use to get their clients what they want. Funding think tanks to produce some ‘evidence’ in their favour, creating fake grassroots campaigns to espouse their arguments, and taking advantage of the revolving door are all tricks of the trade. Corbyn even accused the Tories of adopting these tactics for their campaign, lead by chief strategists and former tobacco lobbyist Sir Lynton Crosby - who received his knighthood from David Cameron for his ‘political services’.
The 2014 Lobbying Act established a lobbying register that was supposed to shine a light on this murky world but it has turned out to be so narrow that it’s not even be worth the paper it was written on. Only consultant lobbyists are required to register, excluding the majority of lobbyists who are directly employed by the companies whose interests they are representing. The register currently contains just 140 entries when we know there are thousands of lobbyist in the UK. Of those who are required to register we have no information about what they are talking about or even who they are talking to! Will Corbyn pledge to introduce a new comprehensive lobbying register to bring lobbying out of the shadows?
Bring power closer to the people
Power is so concentrated in the hands of the few because the UK is one of the most centralised states in the democratic world. If Corbyn is to deliver his promise of ‘giving people real control over their own lives’ then he needs to bring decision making closer to the people. Devolution should extend beyond Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to parts of England too. The current piecemeal approach isn’t enough, communities needs to be given real power over the issues that affect them. Devolved political bodies that are more closely attuned to the needs of their communities should have the power to decide and implement policy independently of Westminster. Corbyn has already committed to a constitutional convention on Scottish devolution, will he hold one to decide the future of devolution in the rest of the UK?
Replace our rigged electoral system
Corbyn said in his speech that the system is rigged, and no system is more clearly rigged than our electoral system. First Past the Post is unrepresentative, disproportionately benefiting the two largest parties and repeatedly maintaining the status quo. Political parties are able to command a majority of seats in Parliament without a majority of the vote, allowing the government to push through policy without seeking to compromise or build consensus. Smaller parties, and by extension their voters, have little chance of representation in Parliament. In 2015 UKIP and the Green party got just 1 MP each despite receiving 3.9 million and 1.1 million votes respectively. The system means that there is a little threat to the established political class who have as a result become more and more unresponsive. Corbyn must commit to introducing a new proportional voting system that truly represents the people and the diversity of their views.
The EU referendum has been characterised as a backlash against the establishment. Politics needs a overhaul, power needs to be returned from elites and given to the people. A failure to tackle these issues will leave people feeling more alienated than ever. Will Corbyn’s rhetoric turn into tangible manifesto pledges? Only time will tell.