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A peoples' parliament

Britains Parliamentary system clearly does not represent the interests and aspirations of the majority of the population. We need to develop an alternative, democratic way of government based on the popular power of the people a Peoples Parliament.

Under the present set-up, MPs elected directly to the House of Commons have very little say and no control whatsoever over policy. For example, the decision to attack Iraq was made between Blair and Bush long before the issue was discussed in parliament.

All political power is in the hands of the presidential-style regime in Downing Street. The idea that the Cabinet discusses and agrees policy is also a thing of the past. Blair has created special units answerable to him to work out policy. Task Forces full of business figures also report directly to Downing Street. Cabinet and parliament are rubber stamps to approve whats already decided.

New Labour openly rules in favour of business and corporate interests. It opens up public services to private finance and creates markets in areas like higher education through tuition fees. In his 1998 speech to the French National Assembly, Blair talked of the enabling state, which has a vital role in promoting competitive markets, encouraging long-term research and investment, and helping to equip citizens with the skills and aspirations they need in a modern economy.

As Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, once told The Times: The Prime Minister is operating as chief executive of various subsidiary companies and you are called to account for yourself.

The Blair regime has even sidelined the traditional civil service by appointing special advisers in each ministry and by forcing officials to advocate rather than explain government policy.

Even some Labour MPs have worked it out. In 2000, Tony Wright MP, chair of the Public Administration Committee, commented: Parliament is a poodle posing as a rottweiler. The myth of parliamentary sovereignty serves as a convenient substitute for real accountability.

Graham Allen MP has written a book called the The last Prime Minister. In it he says: The UK Prime Ministership is in effect an unelected, unacknowledged presidency, and because it is unacknowledged it has none of the checks and balances which normally go with a presidency.

For him, the supremacy of parliament, parliamentary sovereignty and democratic accountability are comforting myths which allow the executive to maintain its apparatus of power without anyone noticing. The UK legislature has an impotence and an irrelevance, he added, for good measure.

In fact, the eroding of parliamentary power began in the mid-19th century. Until then, parliament itself made and broke governments. Then, as capitalism developed, the modern state came into being. It started a massive rise in unchecked, executive power.

As Allen admits: For almost 200 years the British Prime Ministership evolved and adapted in a way that no other political institution was able to, or allowed to By the early part of the 20th century, this asymmetry was such that the executive, selected from the House of Commons, had become dominant, and was checked by nothing more substantial than its own self-control.

Blair himself rarely goes to Parliament, opens a debate or sits beside colleagues. Major policy changes are announced to the media first because the Blairites are dismissive of parliament. They dont believe in democracy and would, for example, prefer an appointed House of Lords to one that is directly elected.

What New Labour is building is a state within a state, backed up by new laws to deal with civil emergencies which give the police military-style powers.

No wonder people have turned their back on traditional politics in their millions, with the turn-out at the last election falling to 59%. In a recent report called British Social Attitudes, the authors noted: It appears that Britain faces a crisis of confidence and participation that is far deeper than any programme of constitutional reform is capable of reversing.

The existing parliamentary state has failed and is lurching towards dictatorship. We propose Peoples Assemblies in its place, with direct, democratic control over the countrys economic and financial resources. The Assemblies can represent people at local, regional and national level and put working people in charge of their destiny for the first time in history.

Inspiration from history

Through history, ordinary working people have challenged the political status quo and made attempts to create an alternative.

Levellers and Diggers in the English Revolution

In 1649, the Levellers and Diggers emerged in the English Revolution, which had overthrown the monarchy and executed Charles I. The Levellers challenged Cromwell, the leader of the revolution, to implement promised social reforms. They wanted the right to vote for all. The Diggers advocated the distribution of land to all the people. When Leveller leaders were jailed, their supporters stormed parliament, brandishing weapons. Both movements were eventually suppressed.

The Chartists

In the late 1830s, workers and some radical middle-class supporters fought for a Charter which would give them the right to vote. They elected a Convention (a term borrowed from the French Revolution), which first met in London in 1839. Some opponents as well as supporters looked on the Convention as the potential new government. The petition, which attracted 1.3 million signatures, was rejected by the government, with Lord John Russell saying it would mean the confiscation of property. Workers in Wales and Yorkshire then laid plans to overthrow the government by force. A second petition in 1841 won 3.3 million names. When it too was rejected, a national strike broke out.

Councils of Action 1917-1920

In February 1917, the Russian people overthrew the Tsarist monarchy, which was an ally of the British in World War One. After this, power in Russia was in the hands of a Provisional Government. But Workers and Soldiers Councils Soviets - were created and challenged the governments authority. They wanted an end to the countrys involvement in the war.

In Leeds, a convention attended by over 1,100 delegates was held in June 1917 to discuss creating similar bodies throughout Britain. Resolutions were passed supporting the overthrow of the Tsar and calling for a just peace in Europe. Messages of support were received from Russia and from a British army unit. The final resolution called for the setting up of Councils of Workers and Soldiers’ Delegates in every town and rural area of Britain to work for the “complete political and economic emancipation of international labour”. Suffragette leader Sylvia Pankhurst was amongst those who spoke in favour.

In 1920, a national Council of Action was created in Britain to mobilise workers against the Lloyd George governments plan for an all-out war against the revolutionary government in Russia. Lenin himself noted: The Council of Action, independently of Parliament, presents an ultimatum to the Government in the name of the workers The whole of the English bourgeois press wrote that the Councils of Action were Soviets. And it was right.

The General Strike 1926

During the nine-day General Strike of 1926, Workers Committees took over the control of all the major cities, controlling the distribution of food and transport in opposition to the forces of the state.

Paul Feldman





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