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Long before the Telegraph's exposure (2008) of expenses abuse by UK
members of parliament, there was widespread and deep public
dissatisfaction, not only with our politicians but also with the system
of government and our democracy. These new revelations of MPs' fiddling,
greed and even dishonesty made many people angry and pushed prominent
politicians, once again, to make promises of reform, promises which we
know from experience they will not keep.

Critics have identified numerous areas of public governance which are in
urgent need of reform, for instance the way we elect our MPs, the power
of parliament to elect and control government, local government powers
and our relationship to the European Union. This list could go on. All
of this can seem overwhelming, not only to the average citizen but also
to experts and members of the government.  Where on earth should we
start? Who -- which persons, groups or organisations --  should decide
which are the areas of priority and who should work out and formulate
the proposals for reform? Should we continue as hitherto to reform our
constitution of state by de facto decree of a single government, as has
been done before?

Most of the areas of public governance to which we refer above would in
many if not most comparable countries be seen as matters of state
constitution. In the UK there is no clear concept of constitution and no
distinction between "ordinary" law and constitutional law. A single
government acting on a vague (if any) electoral mandate can change
constitution which may have been in force for hundreds of years by
pushing a law through parliament with a majority of one vote, law which
will likely endure for decades at least. To date no serious attempt has
been made to involve the electorate in consideration of such changes.

In almost all modern states there is a clear distinction between
constitutional and other law. Commonly, it is more difficult to change
constitution. For instance, a "super-majority" of elected
representatives may be required and an indication of regional consensus
needed. These measures serve to indicate how importantly constitution is
regarded. There are very good reasons to distinguish constitutional from
other law and to treat it with more care.

For decades, across the world, it has been accepted and practised that
only an electorate -- The People -- may enact a state constitution. In
many countries, a number of them in Europe, NO change can be made to
state constitution unless (a) the electorate has been informed and
consulted (b) a broad and extended public debate has been enabled and
organised (c) a referendum (plebiscite) has been held for the final

In conclusion two aspects will be selected and the reason for their
importance briefly explained.

Firstly, a constitution of state. The People should act to give
themselves a charter or group of laws ("constitution") which defines the
role of citizens and their relationships with political representatives,
parliament, government, judiciary, aristocracy and monarchy. First
principles of the new constitution should make clear that: All power in
the country and state belongs to the people. In a prominent position
should appear a statement that power shall be exercised by the People in
ballots and elections; in other words plebiscites by which they decide
on public issues in addition to electing persons to represent them in
parliaments and councils.

A crucial question remains, namely, how can we make ourselves a modern
constitution when the "constitution" and related tradition which we
appear to possess provide no suitable tools for the job? Given the
essential and fundamental role played and to be played by electorates in
making and changing modern constitution (see above), it appears most
urgent that we should give ourselves the instruments of citizen-led
democracy in order, as a people, to make, re-write and modernise our
state constitution. The principles behind the citizens' law proposal,
veto-referendum and citizen-initiated plebiscite flow directly from the
(denied by some) reality that "All power in the country and state
belongs to the people". We could introduce guiding regulations to enable
citizen-led democracy while at the same time extensively promoting
public information and deliberation about renewing our constitution. A
rapid learning process would be expected, leading to a discourse
enriched by the acquisition of long-denied democratic rights. The
electorate could then decide on constitution-building, perhaps in a
step-wise fashion, section by section or "brick by brick".

Let's get on with the job!

I&R ~ GB Citizens' Initiative and Referendum
Campaign for direct democracy in Britain