Opinion: The sector must help revive Parliament

David Puttnam doesn't seem to make films any more. Instead, he is a member of the House of Lords and chairs a number of charities, including Unicef UK. And as chair of the Commission on Parliament in the Public Eye, he has just produced a timely report about our disengagement with the legislature. With turnout in the recent election at only 61 per cent - and 14 per cent of that the result of questionable postal ballots - our interest in how we are governed has arguably reached an all-time low for modern times.

It is not, Lord Puttnam stressed in a BBC interview, that people don't care passionately about causes and the world around them any more - we are not all retreating into a Thatcherite world that rejects any concept of society. Indeed, he said Unicef had never seen so much public enthusiasm for its work. This is a point also made by Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, at a recent Third Sector awards ceremony. When it comes to human rights or abuse of children, there is plenty of public passion and energy to do something, especially among the young.

Part of me wants to say hurrah for charities, to blow our trumpet for getting people to take on board issues that our MPs and ministers would rather sweep under the carpet. But it is rather like constructing a perfect room in a house that is falling down through neglect. Without a Parliament that makes laws society then follows, without a legislature that speaks for the public in holding the Government to account, all our charitable campaigns lack a viable channel through which change can be effected nationally and pressure applied internationally.

In short, ultimately we have as much to lose if people give up on democracy as does our political class. Part of the problem is an all too powerful executive that has grown more and more accustomed to riding roughshod over Parliament. The need for some sort of proportional representation seems to me inescapable, as does the need to remodel the Lords.

Beyond that, though, I believe the voluntary sector can play a role in encouraging our own constituents to re-engage with Parliament. We cannot allow them to see us as an alternative route to change. We have to make plain that, without a viable legislature, we too will flounder. We have no option but to use our moral authority to revive Parliament and reconnect it with our supporters.

Peter Stanford is a writer and broadcaster and sits on various trustee boards

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus