Stuart Hill on the unfinished business of Charter 88
In today’s struggle for democratic progress, and against our current authoritarian government, Unlock Democracy plays an important role, alongside our partners in Labour for a New Democracy. Before we became Unlock Democracy, we were Charter 88.
Charter 88 was inspired by Czechoslovakia’s Prague Spring and its Charter 77. It took Soviet tanks to destroy their hopes for a new form of democratic socialism. In the UK, after 1997, there were a few years of real reform implementing some of the democratic reform agenda inherited from John Smith. The majority of measures remaining were then, essentially, shelved.
Thirty years ago saw the Great Manchester Charter 88 Conference with over 1,000 participants. The impetus of this powerful movement saw the introduction by Labour of devolution to Scotland, Wales and London, together with freedom of information and human rights legislation. It took a Labour government to introduce these reforms. However, once elected, Labour showed little interest in going further with a raft of further restrictions on an over-mighty State and Executive.
The key objectives of Unlock Democracy have not altered. First, we argue and campaign for a vibrant, inclusive democracy that puts power in the hands of the people.
Second, we seek a democratic participative process resulting in a written constitution that serves and protects the people. That constitution would define the roles of, and relationships between, the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. It would determine how, and to what extent, power is shared between representatives at local, national and United Kingdom levels, and with international organisations. It would enshrine basic liberties and human rights for all.
Our ambitions have to be combined with a hard-headed practical approach to the first steps necessary. Only a Labour-led government can deliver Proportional Representation. However, it will require an enormous mobilisation of party members, trade unionists and civil society to compel a manifesto commitment to PR and immediate implementation upon election. We know that Conference resolutions, even if carried, can be ignored.
Within Unlock Democracy, Labour Party members are informally organised as ‘Unlock Labour’ to better campaign in the trade unions and Labour Party for democratic advance.