Examination of Witness (Questions 60-79)|
THURSDAY 7 MARCH 2002
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 currentlya
lot of people ask me this, not a week goes by and somebody does
not ask meconfigurated 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 MPit is hard enough to get played on Radio
2 would without deep-sixing itthat 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 proposalsit is his
A optionwhich 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
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
(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 elseand my audience are not predominantly
that age, but there are a lot of people from that agewe
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.