There is a lot to recommend itself in Labour’s new political reform document here. But there is also a lot of waffle, and very little in terms of giving actual decision-making power to either citizens or backbenchers.
At the heart of the proposal is a constitutional convention which will draft a new constitution which will, preumably (The document does not say), be put to the people. What’s interesting, however, is the makeup of the convention. One-third will be politicians, in other words, the people who have politics the way it is today. One-third will be unelected NGOs, and the remaining third will be made up of members of the public chosen at random.
Just think about what that breakdown says about how Labour see Ireland. The first thing is that politicians get as many seats as the people. Why? They are elected, this is true, and should be on it, but why do they get so many seats, given that the voters themselves will be on the convention. Do Labour really feel that the opinions of the political establishment should have equal voice as the people? Really?
Then Labour propose a mixture of NGOs, lawyers and academics. Again, there is good reason for having them on, but again, why such a big share? If there are 90 members of the convention, each member of the public will represent about 140,000 people. Now, aside from representatives of the Catholic Church, the GAA, the IFA, the FAI and ICTU, and maybe one or two others, you’d be hard pressed to find many NGOs with anywhere near that many full paid-up members? Yet PANA, with its four members and a cat get to vote on a par with someone representing Limerick City?
My concern is that having so many NGOs onboard could lead to the document ending up being jampacked full of special rights (that is, spending committments) for various interests, decided not by the people through elections but by judges, having done the deal with the politician members in return for supporting only minor changes to the political system. A you-scratch-my-back built in majority. Or benchmarking, as we used to call it.
Despite its flaws, the convention is a good idea, provided that over half its members are random members of the public.