Select Committee on Public Administration Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 60-79)



Kevin Brennan

  60. I am interested in what you say you see when you look at us. We are probably about the same age?
  (Mr Bragg) We are. You should come and see my audience, Kevin, they are about the same age, and they do not look like you, mate, no disrespect!

  61. Why do you not stand for election yourself?
  (Mr Bragg) Because I think the process as it is currently—a lot of people ask me this, not a week goes by and somebody does not ask me—configurated makes it difficult for someone like myself, whose opinions have a more, shall we say, what word can I choose, individual outlook on things harder to say what I want to say. I am not going to be out celebrating the Jubilee this year. If I was a Labour MP and a Member of Parliament that would not be very popular. There is a problem there. I, perhaps, have more opportunity to speak my mind and make a point by being outside of the political process. I am not taking a cynical view that it is not worth it, I would encourage anybody who wants to do that to take part and to participate. From my point of view if I was a Labour MP—it is hard enough to get played on Radio 2 would without deep-sixing it—that is, making things more difficult for myself.

  62. People, if you like, of our generation—
  (Mr Bragg) Clash fans.

  63.—people who bought, and were in the Silver Jubilee 25 years ago, the number one, God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols, is there a fundamental problem with democratic politics and other kind of politics with that whole generation, that it does not mean anything to them any more? I suppose what I am trying to get at is, you are recommending what is needed is to make certain groups of people more visible, people from ethnic minorities, women, people from ordinary backgrounds. Can voting, as we understand it, now bring that about? Would it be better in a lot of these areas in some public appointments to select people at random?
  (Mr Bragg) To go back to the Lords reform, that is something that I have given a lot of thought to. If we were reforming the House of Lords as a secondary house on a secondary mandate, as recommend by Lord Wakeham in his proposals—it is his A option—which suggests taking all of the votes cast during a general election and distributing the seats in the Upper House as a proportion of the votes cast in the election for the House of Commons if we were doing that we would have to use a list system in order to get those proportions into the Lords. Now, if those lists were regional, first and foremost, that would, perhaps, draw the focus of power away from London. Secondly, if those lists were formed by primaries rather than by a central party, if it was a matter of party activists coming together to vote the order on the list that would give local people more control of who went to represent them in the Second Chamber. Thirdly, if they did have an opportunity to put on non-party-political people of their choice, local people who were well respected, involved and active in the community, that would begin to break down the process and bring people in. I do not know if I am allowed to refer to a little bit of earlier evidence I heard when Sydney Chapman was asking about older people. I think older people do need representing in our society, I think that is very, very important, but there is no reason why you could not have a bunch of 25 year of olds in the House of Lords as it stands now. I do not understand why we have never done that.

  64. That is because of the hereditary system.
  (Mr Bragg) Exactly, yes. The hereditaries tend to live a bit longer these days so when their sons and daughters do come in they are a bit older. The opportunity to get a variety, a representative variety, it could be that the lists alternate between male and female candidates and deal with that allowance. You cannot expect to make a microcosm of our society, that is impossible, but you can begin to address these huge imbalances between the population in general and the political class as we see it as viewers of television and readers of newspapers.

  Chairman: I have feeling that all of the Committee are going to have to establish their street-cred when they ask a question.

Mr Wright

  65. Billy, I would love to be able to dress down but as you quite rightly said it does not seem to be the protocol. When I dress up people in my constituency, whether they are school age or at work, I become the man in the suit, that is a particular barrier. Whilst you mention the fact that you would not stand for election for one of the reasons that you could not celebrate the Queen's Jubilee, I would suggest why not become unorthodox and become an MP and not celebrate it because of the point in principle. My point in question, why can we not get young people involved in public life and involved in politics? You mentioned the age of 25, why not younger than 25, everyone has something to contribute?
  (Mr Bragg) I totally agree with you. A particular example of that is, I have been working on tour quite closely with the GMB Union, not on this particular tour, but a tour of a couple of years ago and we were focusing on the on implementation of the minimum wage and the fact it did not cover people between the age of 18 and 21. They pay the same for their beer and their rent as anybody else—and my audience are not predominantly that age, but there are a lot of people from that age—we tried to address that issue. One of the problems traditionally has been that young people are clearly more radical and experienced, both with the young Socialists and the young Conservatives in the 1980s, it was an experience, when the party leadership spent much of its time reigning them in. I do not think it is necessarily an issue of encouraging young people to join political parties, but it is how do we engage young people, how do we get them to engage in the process of making the world a better place? My sense of that is that our enemy in trying to do that is not the opposing political party, or even, perhaps, the capitalist system, our main enemy is cynicism. Cynicism is corroding those of us who want to work towards building a better society, cynicism is incredibly corrosive. You cannot argue with the cynic because they have all of the answers, they never get off their butt and do anything. Unfortunately we are in a situation where quite high profile issues have been debated, have been in the manifesto, the Labour Party won the election and they have not been seen to be implemented, an obvious one is fox hunting. I know that is not an important issue regarding the day-to-day running of peoples' lives and the day-to-day running of the country's administration, I accept that, but it is an incredibly high profile issue to those people who say, we voted for this, they had a vote in the House of Commons and they still have not done anything about it, and we are in another Parliament now! This is a problem I find talking to young people about politics all of the time. Those people faced with that reality become disengaged and, worse, become cynical and try to find other ways to change society, and that is where you find people believing that smashing up McDonalds is going to make some kind of contribution, that is a frustration. How do we overcome that frustration and re-engage young people, I wish I knew the answer to that. I must say we did have the same discussions in the 1980s. There was a time in the 1980s, after the miners strike, when we were fighting against the Thatcher government, there was a huge amount of young people out there and we were trying very, very hard to engage the majority of young people back then. At least then there was a clear difference between the two mainstream political parties, but as that difference has broken down I think young people are looking for more, perhaps, shall we say, potent ways to make their mark in the world and I do not think politics offers them that at the moment, mainstream politics.

  66. As far as I am concerned the main issue is the inability for youngsters between age of 16 to 18 to participate in the democratic process, do you think that is one of the issues that to be needs addressed?
  (Mr Bragg) I rather shamefully admit when I first had the vote in 1979 I did not vote, I was 20 years old. Part of the reason for that was because I was a punk-rocker and therefore I believed in an anarchists kind of haircut. Secondly, I could not discern any difference between Jim Callahan and Margaret Thatcher. How stupid can you be? Obviously I sometimes think it might have all been my fault. That experience, that somebody as politically engaged as me, even then, felt as a badge of my honour I was not going to take part in this charade, how can these old people have any effect on my life. That experience is a common experience amongst young people, until they realise that their lives are directly affected by what is going on and the younger you are the less affected your lives are. A lot of 16 to 18 year olds are still living with their parents, and that kind of thing, and they are not so involved as when they are 23, 24, 25, and they start to bring up a family and buy their home and work somewhere. I think reality arrived in my life in the shape of the Falklands War and the first Thatcher government woke me up; the miners strike had a very, very strong effect on me. Those sort of things are not really on the horizon at the moment, I do not think. By lowering the age of voting I do not think you would see a surge of political engagement. Frankly I am not in favour of excluding the 18 to 21 year olds, but I do not think the answer is to lower the voting age.

  67. On the question of the House of Lords, do you think that the peoples peers did an amount of damage to the process of democracy?
  (Mr Bragg) I am afraid they did. Unfortunately the process that we presently have for appointing members to the House of Lords is a closed circle, it is done completely and utterly within Westminster. The Prime Minister appoints Lord Wakeham, Lord Wakeham pulls together a committee full of members of the House of Lords or future members of the House of Lords, they appoint Lord Stevenson of Coddenham to appoint people to the House of Lords, it is a complete closed loop, the electorate have no input into it whatsoever, so why are we surprised when they bring in the same sort of people they see everyday on the benches in the House of Lords. In the end if we are to achieve the process I was talking about, bringing people in from outside, then the people we want on those benches are, I am afraid, are the kind of people Lord Wakeham and Lord Stevenson never, ever meet.

Mr Prentice

  68. Are you in favour of term limits for politicians, you do two Parliaments and you are out?
  (Mr Bragg) I am a believer in a kind of mix and match process, I would like a proportional representation in the Upper House and first pass the post in the Lower House. I think that a genuinely bicameral system would benefit from having the best of both processes. I think I would be in favour of no term limits for directly elected Members of Parliament, MPs, but some sort of term limits imposed in the Upper Chamber that has proportional representation.

  69. No term limits for MPs as such, do you think there should be some kind of term limit about how long a person should serve as Prime Minister?
  (Mr Bragg) I think that should be down to the electorate. These things are really important, if the electorate believe that the Prime Minister has done a good job they should give him or her more time to carry on doing that job. If they think he or she has done a bad job they should have the ability to get rid of him or her. That is why I favour keeping the first past the post for the Commons, because I think the British electorate like to go in, make their mark and everything will change.

  70. You mentioned Lord Wakeham and you mentioned the Denis Stevenson and the audit trail leads straight to Number 10 and, the huge powers of patronage that the Prime Minister has. How would you like to be see that changed?
  (Mr Bragg) I would like the powers that the Prime Minister has currently to be under review. Perhaps we could celebrate the Jubilee by abolishing the idea of a Crown Parliament and making it a people's Parliament which would allow us to look very, very closely at these the powers, not just of the Prime Minister, but that government minister per se might have in these issues. I think if we were reforming the Lords along some kind of regional basis, if we made sure that the lists were compiled regionally, by regional party members through a primary process that would take a lot of the power of patronage out of the hands of the Prime Minister.

  71. I understand that. What is wrong with having quotas? You mentioned earlier young people, earlier we were talking about Asian women, especially Muslim women, who are woefully under represented. If you want a people's Parliament which reflects Britain as it today, especially with the Upper House, what is wrong with having quotas for sexual orientation?
  (Mr Bragg) Let us talk about Muslim women, if you are going to put them in Parliament, where are you going to find them, are they going to be Sunni Muslim or Sufi Muslim? The Muslim religion does not have a hierarchy like we have in the Christian church, they do not have archbishops or that whole structure to be able to take representatives from. Will they be Philippine Muslims, will they be Bengali Muslims, it is fraught, that kind of idea, it is really fraught with problems. In the end you are also faced with a culture in which women have a different role than they do in our Parliamentary culture. The role that women have in Parliament, where it is possible for a woman to be a Prime Minister, which is a great idea, a fine idea and so it should be, that is not reflected necessarily in the Muslim community. To expect Muslim women to step forward and say I do not care what my family or everyone else in the my community says I am going to go and do this job, I use that as an example—

  72. Their absence changes the nature of our Parliament. You cannot just say—
  (Mr Bragg) I am not saying that, I am just saying that quotas are not the way to do that. Again, getting back to how do we configure a Second Chamber of 600 people, should it be a microcosm of our society or should it be representative of our society? Should we expect women, broadly, to be able to represent their Muslim sisters as well as they represent Anglican women, could we expect that? If we could have a 50/50 representation through the list system could we then expect them to take on the issue of women completely across the board? That would be a better way to do it. I would like to encourage Muslim women to come in, but I do not think the quota system would do that.

  73. Can I ask how you fight against cynicism yourself? You spoke about the fox hunting debate, we have had two votes, huge majorities on the Labour side and yet we got nowhere?
  (Mr Bragg) It a daily problem, you know, just like my middle-aged bulge, something that I constantly have to think about, and fight it. I do occasionally find myself saying in interviews, "a cynic might say", a cynic might say, for instance, that the Labour Party have reformed Scotland, Wales and London but they have not reformed the House of Lords. That is the first of those areas where they do not have a majority that they can be sure that they will win, a cynic might say that is why they are a bit shy—

  74. I ask you that question because maybe the nature of the Labour Party has changed, and I do not say this in a pejorative way, it is a sort of democratic centralist organisation where policies emerge from the centre and the rest of us have got to go along with it?
  (Mr Bragg) That is very true. I would say that the present government by their actions are unfortunately promoting cynicism in the land because they have come in with such great expectations after the 1997 election that so many people wanted a genuine change, and living up to those expectations was always going to be difficult and delivering on those expectations was going to be difficult. When we get tied up, seemingly, over issues of presentation of who sent what e-mail to who else I think the effect of that on those who want to talk about issues is that people just switch off. I find in my constituency, constituted such as it is, 1,500 people tonight at the Shepherd's Bush Empire will be very, very disappointed at that way things have turned out. Does that mean they will disengage? I do not know. I say to people they should save their cynicism up until the general election and then make their decision.

  75. You say that young people are more radical, I do not always see that. When I raise issues with them their eyes glaze over, they talk about tuition fees and they get engaged; they talk about the use of cannabis and they get engaged, given you want to revitalise the political process give me a couple of policies that would really get young people thinking seriously about getting involved in politics?
  (Mr Bragg) Conscription—

  76. If we say we will bring back conscription.
  (Mr Bragg)—if you want to engage them.

  77. I think you are taking the Mick!
  (Mr Bragg) You have touched on those issues because they are issues that affect their lives, but not everyone smokes cannabis and not everybody goes to university. It is really how do we get out beyond those young people who are in some way taking part in secondary education and university education. There are a lot of young people out there who are totally adrift and not switching at all to politics in any manner and have completely given up any hope of their lives changing and are almost disengaged from society, never mind politics. The real question is, how we show them that their lives can be changed by participation. There is a mixture of things. I wish there was one, I wish could come up with it, one way of re-engaging them. This has to work in a number of ways.

  Mr Prentice: Conscription will do.

Mr Liddell-Grainger

  78. Can I follow on? I have a t-shirt.
  (Mr Bragg) If some of these young people who I mentioned earlier that are disengaged were given the opportunity to drive a tank they would be queueing up.


  79. You are talking to a former tank driver.
  (Mr Bragg) Me too.

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