Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 54-59)




  54. Billy Bragg, thanks for coming along.
  (Mr Bragg) My pleasure.

  55. It is good of you to fit us in on your world tour, two gigs in one day!
  (Mr Bragg) The guest list is full I am afraid.

  56. I was going to try that in a moment on behalf of my son. Westminster Palace in the morning and Shepherd's Bush Empire in the evening is not a bad day for anybody. You see what we are about, we are looking at the whole business of patronage and appointments. We wanted to talk to you because you have been a vigorous attacker of the whole patronage system and we wanted to have a conversation with you about that. Do you want to say anything to kick off?
  (Mr Bragg) Very briefly, yes. It would be well known to anybody who followed my career that I am involved in political activity on behalf of one party, the Labour Party. I have to stress that everything that I have done about politics, whether it has been in the United Kingdom, the United States of America or else where round the world, has been about participation of the democratic process. That, to me, seems to be the best way to take society forwards. I have had incredible arguments and I have taken a lot of criticism from activists who believe that a more revolutionary path is the only way to change society, both in the 1980s, and presently with the anti-globalisation movement. There is a strong thread that believes you can only change the world by smashing up branches of McDonalds. I happen to believe if you want to change the world you would the better off organising a trade union in McDonalds. The way to change things is to make those people that have power, be they in government or in multinational corporations, accountable to the citizens of states, accountable to the employees of multinationals and accountable to the communities in which local government and multinational corporations operate. That is just what I want to say. Almost exclusively the political activity that I have done has been about trying to encourage people to participate in the democratic process.

  57. We are looking at who these people are who get to run things. As you heard from the Commissioner of Public Appointments just now there are 30,000 of these appointments, of which she looks and regulates 12,000, or so, of them. We have to find some way to run these bodies. I am not sure whether you would argue that we have to bring these inside the democratic elected process in some way. In asking you that question, can I put this to you, if we did that, if we said that all of these bodies have to be democratic and elected would that not exclude the vast majority of the population taking part in them, when you consider that, I think, it is 1.5 per cent of the people of this country who belong to a political party. If we really are civic activists do we not have to try and find ways of getting all of these other people into the process of running things somehow?
  (Mr Bragg) Clearly there is a difficulty there. I think the perspective that you just offered, Chairman, is from the present state, from the standing start with the appointments the way they are, how do we inspire people to want to be part of those? I have been very proactive in the debate about the reform of the House of Lords and I think that is such a high profile issue that it will get the attention of the electorate, whether they are particularly party political or particularly interested in standing for office. If we could reform the House of Lords in a way that included people from outside of the Westminster circle that would send an immediate message to the electorate that the present reform programme is about bringing people in from outside. To begin by going out and advertising for people to join a committee or take part I think that is difficult from a standing start. If you can begin at the very top, in the heart of Westminster, at the centre of our democratic process, whereby you can show that people from outside of the Westminster circle are coming into the centre of political power through a process of a representative Second Chamber then I think you can begin to allow that idea to permeate throughout the way government is administrated. I think that is a key issue, because the reverse is to try and engage people at committee level, at local level, and my understanding is that if you want to step outside of the people who are members of political parties—the usual suspects—that is the problem from a standing start. If you can begin at the pinnacle and draw people in that is a better way to try and re-invigorate the whole process.

  58. Just listening to Rennie Fritchie, whose job it is to go out and get people interested in public appointments, getting to groups like Asian women, people who are really not involved at all in running organisations, I have a sense that if we could get people included beyond the usual suspects, also people who are not simply coming through the party system, if I can put this way, and engage people like you in doing some of the work that she is trying to do with some of these groups by showing how it is possible, instead of just saying, that is all in the air of patronage, that it is not reputable, that is not stuff we want to get involved in. If we did not just have the Rennie Show, but if we had the Rennie and Billy Show we could really turn people on!
  (Mr Bragg) There is a problem in that, Chairman, I look—no disrespect to you all—at you in your suits and ties and I sit here in my Clash t-shirt. What I am saying is, if I were a Muslim woman and I looked at the body politic as represented where would I see myself. I would not see myself there at all. That is just an example. I do not really see myself represented, in fact the majority of us do not see ourselves represented. That is why a reform of the Lords, that draws people in from the regions, that allows local political parties to draw in not just their own members but also to put people on the list, local renowned people, teachers, a headmaster, a nurse, a local social activist, something like that, to try and draw those people in so that they become visible on our televisions then people can see their identity, their lives, their background reflected in the body politic and then people will think, maybe I can do this. At the moment, because of the formality of the situation, because of the reality of who becomes Members of Parliament I think there is a problem there and when people do tune in and they see the same kind of talking head and as the political debate becomes narrower, as we now live in a less ideological age, then the distinction between the parties are blurred for a lot of people, people who are semi-engaged in politics, and it becomes much of a much. I think that is the problem of visibility, of seeing yourself as someone that could be addressed through the Lords reform.

Mr Wright

  59. Some of us wear t-shirts too.
  (Mr Bragg) I know, but I have never seen you in your Clash T-shirt!

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