Examination of Witness (Questions 80-99)|
THURSDAY 7 MARCH 2002
80. Were you?
(Mr Bragg) The Queen's Royal Irish Hussars
81. Well done, you.
(Mr Bragg) That is how I get the Tory on side.
82. How do you deal with the Al-Qaeda? In the
European elections last time round there was an abysmal 26 per
cent turn out, which we all agree is disgraceful. I am just wondering,
is it not the House of Commons that may be wrong, because the
perception we have, never mind the pin-striped suits, is what
you see on the television is you see us all screaming and yelling
at the Prime Minister, it does not matter which party it is, you
then see people voting in an empty chamber, and you see people
rushing in and out, we have no job description. You go down to
Shepherd's Bush Empire tonight and you are on at 7 o'clock, we
clock out when we finish, we are finishing today later than normally,
is it not the fundamental of the whole system which needs to be
looked at top to bottom than just one end or the other?
(Mr Bragg) I agree. You have to be begin somewhere.
If you could achieve the infusion of people from outside the present
Westminster circle to reform a Second Chamber their presence would
have a salutary effect on your behaviour, we would able to see
them on tv being, we hope, more civil, working more regular hours,
because they are were citizens who signed up for whatever length
of term we give them. I think they would bring in non-Westminster
practices that would highlight all those problems that you are
talking about because you are absolutely right in making that
point that when we do switch on and see those things they are
very, very much
83. Look round the table here. We have all come
from different backgrounds. I do not think any of us come from
the same background. We are all professionals, semi-professionals,
pole-cats, whatever you want to call us, but we have got here.
I do not think you can mirror that at the other end by demanding
that that is what it has got to be like. We have got to look at
what we are like, not try and impose it but say "can we come
to that system". It must work because it has worked quite
well so far, although it is beginning to get old and jaded.
(Mr Bragg) Is what you are talking about just tidying
up the status quo or are you talking about bringing in
a new infusion of ideas in the 21st Century, because that is what
I am interested in doing? A second chamber which had a legitimacy,
not the same legitimacy as yourselves but a legitimacy that would
come with a secondary mandate could actually help you to do a
lot of your parliamentary work. I think they should be full-time
legislatorsnot 24/7 but certainly five days a week reasonable
hours. One of the real problems with the present Lords is its
casual nature and the fact it does not matter if they turn up
and vote because it does not matter in the end how they vote.
84. You have hit the nail on the head. What
is going to be their responsibility? Is it turning down Fox Hunting
Bills or is it looking at Communications Bills like we had last
night in the Lords, which went on and on and on until 10 o'clock
last night? Are we looking at the wrong sort of things? Are we
disengaging by virtue of the way that we have the legislative
(Mr Bragg) I am not sure.
85. It is quite a complicated question.
(Mr Bragg) It is a complicated question and your experience
of the Commons is obviously much, much greater than mine for me
to be able to see through your question how that might be improved.
I have a constant argument with my friends in Charter 88 who want
a wholly directly elected second chamber. I keep saying to them,
"What you are asking for is an animal of the same size with
the same size teeth as the House of Commons and they are going
to fight you because they are going to be going after the same
prey. What we should be doing is trying to create a smaller animal
with teeth that helps the House of Commons do its business, do
its hunting. It should be something that is smaller but it has
to have teeth. It has to be able to make its point and not be
able to be dismissed by Ministers who say "they are unelected".
That is a problem. Even if we have a directly elected second chamber
and the elections are on a separate day, for instance, to that
of the Commons elections, the turn-out will be similar to that
of the Euro elections and then you will have the abysmal situation
of ministers saying, "They are not really representative
anyway. Only a quarter of the people voted for them." That
is why I am very much in favour of plugging the election of the
second chamber into the General Election because that is from
where the source of all political legitimacy flows. It is the
largest participationobviously it has fallen a little in
the last Election and that should be of concern to everybodythat
we have. If we could plug into that, then we would have a second
chamber that because it was so new would have a point to prove
against the Commons. You would judge it immediately against what
the Commons looks like, how the Commons acts. The Commons would
suddenly have not a rival but a new suitor for the public's affections
and it would perhaps have the effect of encouraging the Commons
to look at the way it conducts itself. Can you really put rules
in that stop all that hullabaloo, which has nothing to do with
it, it is just yah-boo? You might as well be Richard Littlejohn
sometimes for the amount of debate that goes on in here. I am
sorry to keep coming back to the Lords but I do think it is an
important issue because of the knock-on effect it would have on
the issues you are discussing and, secondly, it is in the manifesto,
it is in the Queen's Speech, it is something we can possibly do
something about in this Parliament.
86. I hesitate to ask you this but have you
had a chance to look at the Committee's Report on Lords' reform?
(Mr Bragg) Yes I have.
87. I know that it is not your model.
(Mr Bragg) No, it is not my model. I just hope you
have a plan B, that is all I can say. Because you have recommended
direct election, I think the Prime Minister will say what he has
said to everybody else who has recommended direct election which
isand I more or less quote him on the back of this"It
would not be sensible for the Commons to legislate so the House
of Lords becomes a rival Chamber." I took those words and
put them there because this is the constant argument of those
who are against reform and when we say we want a directly elected
chamber, even if it is only 60 per cent second chamber, we are
giving them a free shot at knocking down our ideas. We must find
a way to overcome that because they have a very good point. The
possibility of grid-lock between the two Chambers is something
that has to be addressed. The issue of whether it is viable to
have directly elected members and appointed members in the same
chamber and that remain democratic has to be addressed as well.
That is why I am in favour of a wholly indirectly elected second
chamber. I welcome the fact that you were able to get unanimity
on 60 per cent. I think you have done a great job on those things
and I am very pleased that you have come up with those. I do feel
that the Prime Minister's response is going to be along the lines
I quote there which I believe was the response to a backbencher
who asked the question why can we not have an elected second chamber?
88. We could count you as part of our coalition
of support behind this plan A?
(Mr Bragg) You can count me as the "60 per cent
and rising" tendency, yes.
89. I have a concern sitting here. I am sure
we all find modernisation of the House of Commons and the House
of Lords a terribly good thing but I do not think that is what
is connecting with people out there at all. I think it is all
laudable and needs to be done but I do not think we are getting
at the nitty gritty. Perhaps it is not quite your topic today
but what I would be really interested in is a whole package of
things we could start engaging with young people in particular.
I had some people on the Prince's Trust who came round and they
said they did not vote because they did not understand the things
that were going on. I think that is a really good reason for not
voting and I was quite impressed in a way. It is not just education
and citizenship classes and all the rest of it. All of that is
good but there must be some way of putting something back into
the fabric. Given that young people's interest is going to be
transient and it is going to be single issue, is there not a way
we can tap into this and at least engage young people for a period
of time and perhaps then we will get an accumulative effect? I
would like your ideas.
(Mr Bragg) I have thought a lot about this, Annette,
partly for my own purposes. My job as a singer/songwriter is to
observe the world and try and come up with some ideas about it.
I do not think you can change the world by singing songs. It is
a shame but you cannot. What you can do is offer people a different
perspective on an issue. I speak from experience because I listened
to bandsnot only the famous Clash of t-shirt fame but also
Bob Dylan, artists like that. I have been looking very much at
the anti-globalisation movement trying to understand what is going
on there because it has not yet manifested itself in an ideological
way. What is the undercurrent there? I mention this because I
believe that if we can tap into those issues that young people
do feel very, very strongly about and show that there is a connection
with the issues that you are addressing at this Select Committee,
there is a possibility then to engage them on a number of levels.
From looking at the issues, my analysis is that the issue that
is at the basis of the anti-globalisation movement is one of accountability.
For instance, is the World Bank accountable to the citizens of
the nations that support it financially? The IMF, WTO, these non-governmental
groups seem to have control over great swathes of the world's
economy, yet how are they directly accountable to us as citizens
of the states that support them? On another level, the European
Union, we will soon be asked whether or not we wish to join the
European single currency. Is the European Parliament the way that
the European Union is run? It is not reallyit is the Council
of Ministers. So, is the European Union actually directly accountable
to the citizens of Europe? Then bringing it back on to our own
backyard, it gets back to the House of Lords again. How accountable
are those people who have political power over us? Look at the
Royal Prerogative, these kinds of issues. Accountability as an
idea is not, as we say in rock `n' roll a very sexy idea and it
is very difficult to fit into a song but the idea of holding people
to account is something that is key to this whole notion of participation
because if we can show young people that they do have the power
to hold to account those people that have a direct effect on their
lives, I think we can then expect them to be more interested because
they do want to change the world. The political process of democracy
is at the moment (it has always been too slow for young people)
less attractive because it does not have the ideological dynamic
that it perhaps had in the 1980s. That would be an issue we could
talk to young people aboutaccountability. Why do you not
vote? If you voted you could do this. And then if you pressed
for other bodies to come under democratic control then that issue
of accountability is a issue that we could engage them in on a
number of levels. There are other issues as well to which you
could apply that but that is one particular issue I have looked
at. I am trying to express that to my audience and to my listeners.
90. You could take that full circle because
if anybody feels they cannot make a difference then it is not
worth bothering and if it is all fixed then we come back to patronage.
(Mr Bragg) Obviously that is the key with patronagethe
message it sends to the electorate about their participation in
the process is wholly negative. It is saying, "We do not
really care what you think, we are going to put these people in,
we know and we trust them. We do not care if you trust them or
not, we are going to put them in and we are going to carry on
business as usual and, by and large, they are going to be people
we know from our professional circle." At a time of dropping
voter turn-outs it sends completely the wrong message about participation
to the electorate.
Annette Brooke: Thank you. I am conscious of
91. There is a triangle, a third side to this.
There are the voters and profession politicians and people like
yourself who for one reason or another are very engaged in public
debate. On the third side there is the press and in recent years
politicians have tried to manipulate the press, as indeed the
press have tried to manipulate politicians, and personalities
have become increasingly important. I have read your case and
I think it is a good one and I am bound to say that I agree that
it should be fully elected chamber. But the press filter a lot
of this. When you go to school and find they do not know anything
at all about what we would call the constitutionhow the
country works, the magistrates' courts, levels of governmentit
is a complete blank to them. That is partly because the school
has not done civics in the traditional sense and it is partly
because what they see on telly and read in the papers is so bland
in one way and uniformly critical in another. How do you get round
(Mr Bragg) Without being too vain I can perhaps compare
my own career. I am making, broadly speaking, music with an agenda.
Sometimes it is a political agenda; at other times it is a more
personal agenda. I am not just a political singer/songwriter.
I write as many songs about relationships and about life in general
as I do about politics. However, the other 99 per cent of music
that you hear is wholly non-political. People sometimes say that
you should not mix music and politics, which to me is patently
ridiculous. Music is like journalismyou should write about
whatever you want to write about. The problem for me is that I
find that whilst I am marginalised from the mainstream there is
a sizable minority of people who are looking for something a bit
more interesting. I am constantly trying to find them and engage
with them. One of the ways to do that is to step outside the mainstream
media and use the Internet as a means to contact other people,
directly bypassing the media and getting news from places around
the world from means other than the mainstream media.
92. That is the problem for politicians. You
used the word "agenda" and earlier you used the word
"ideologies". You suggested that people were switched
on to one ideology or another in the 1980s and 1990s, there was
still a sense that there were important issues at stake, that
people got involved, and perhaps that was enough. Is that missing
(Mr Bragg) I think what is missing is the big idea.
It is a sign of our times that there is no credible political
party anywhere in Europe advocating the overthrow of the capitalist
system. Where does that leave people who wish to try to articulate
an alternative to the American model of capitalism, for instance?
How are we going to articulate a model of capitalism that is not
based purely on the way the Americans do business? It is difficult.
We do not have an ideological language any more. The language
of Marxism, which is traditionally used to articulate these ideas,
is no use to us any more.
93. Could not the big idea be this line from
your latest albumI am showing my own street cred here"no
power without accountability"? Is that not the big idea?
(Mr Bragg) That is a big idea but it is not yet articulated
at the ballot box. The idea of the electorate holding more people
more accountable is not a very fashionable idea among the political
classes, if you do not mind me saying so Chairman.
94. It is your line.
(Mr Bragg) It is my line but I am outside the political
process. It is what we want from you. We want more accountability.
We respect the fact that you put yourself up for re-election every
four or five years. We respect that by the fact that so many of
us participate in an election. We express the fact that we believe
in that as a process by which our country should be governed,
but we do not believe that that is the end of it. There are other
ways to take part, there are other ways to engage, there are other
ways to hold people accountable. One of the things at the end
of this ideological period does do is it puts everything up for
debate. Everything. That is why we are engaged in this process
of reform as we are now. The Government has said that they do
want to encourage a sense of civic renewal and, by and large,
people would find that very, very popular. We can articulate that
in a solid way by bringing these new people in and showing them
visibly, placing them beside yourselves in the House of Lords,
and putting them on a level playing field with yourselves. In
the end we want to engage the electorate on their terms, in tele-visual
terms, in media terms. It is not about simply bringing in hairdressers.
Hairdressers are probably no better than captains of industry
at having all the answers. What it is is about bringing people
from outside this closed circle that you inhabit, this circle
of appointment. If you can find a way to break out of that closed
circle and engage with the electorate on their terms rather than
just on your terms, I think that may offer a way forward. The
Royal Commission is how I became involved in this in the first
place. I went along and I saw you give evidence, Tony, on the
first day and I sat there watching to watch the process because
I thought it was a great process. I went along as a punter and
sitting there I thought I might have an idea and I eventually
ended up writing this pamphlet. Obviously I am really encouraged
by the way the Government and the Royal Commission has reached
out but that seems to have stalled now because it is really coming
to the crunch where you do have to let go and you do have to say
to their Lordships, "You have done a great job." You
do not have to sack them and throw them out like you did the hereditaries.
There is no reason why you could not, for instance if you are
going to have a 600-seat House, make a list of how often the top
600 members voted in the House of Lords in the last Parliamentary
session, say goodbye to the lowest 200, take the 400 remaining,
split them in two, give the people who voted the most ten years
or two parliamentary terms in the new second chamber, and give
the lower members a five-year term, and then bring in the first
tranche of new people. You would have a great chamber then. You
would have people with ten years of experience still there. The
last thing we want is completely new people who do not know their
95. We recommended a version of that.
(Mr Bragg) Yes.
96. That sounds like a politician's answer to
me rather than a poet's answer. I disagree that you cannot change
the world with songs. I think the history of the world suggests
people who have stimulated all sorts of change.
(Mr Bragg) Michael, I appreciate your belief in that
because it has been central to my belief, but my job is not to
kid the audience that I can change the world for them. My job
is to make sure the audience understand that if they want to change
the world, it is their responsibility. They cannot cop out by
buying a Clash t-shirt and a Billy Bragg record.
97. Are you tempted to get more involved in
(Mr Bragg) I went so far at the last Election as dressing
up as a Roman centurion
98. I was thinking of public bodies.
(Mr Bragg)In the hope of engaging the public.
I do not know how much further I can go. I engage where I can.
It is not always easy to engage in these issues. If I could have
written a song about House of Lords' reform, perhaps I would have
done that but I could not, I had to look at another way of doing
that, and I would hope that my commitment to the process is expressed
by the very existence of this pamphlet. To come back to one last
point that Anthony Wright made
99. I am Tony Wright but I use Anthony because
he is older than me.
(Mr Bragg) I see that.