Britain's Labour Party promises reforms, but won't reverse Brexit

Britain's Labour Party promises reforms, but won't reverse Brexit

Britain's main opposition Labour Party has unveiled its new plan to re-start the country's economy, and bring about major changes in how the country is ruled.

The new blueprint, drawn up by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has already been dismissed by critics, who have raised questions about how many of the recommendations are achievable.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has not committed to all of them just yet, instead saying they show the direction his party wants to move in.

Among the 40 proposals in the report -- which is called "A New Britain" -- are plans to stop politicians from having second jobs and to cut down on foreign money in UK politics.

They also want to transfer tens of thousands of government jobs out of London; empower local authorities to raise their own revenues; set up regional innovations clusters; and create directly-elected mayors in Scotland.

But the headline idea is to scrap Britain's House of Lords and introduce an elected second house of representatives instead.

Reforming the House of Lords

This is not a new idea from Labour: critics point out that it was part of their election manifesto in 1910, and in more modern times was a proposal at the 1967 Labour Party conference in the English seaside town of Scarborough.

Critics also say that without reforms to Britain's first-past-the-post voting system for national elections, a new upper house could also become dominated by one party and not be more fully representative of voting patterns.

"I think the House of Lords is indefensible. Anybody who looks at the House of Lords would struggle to say it should be kept, so we want to abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected chamber that has a really strong mission," Starmer said on Monday morning.

Before any of the ideas are introduced in a possible future Labour government, Starmer said there will be consultation and a testing process "with a view of how to implement them."

Bebeto Matthews/Copyright 2016 The AP. All rights reserved.
Friday Sept. 16, 2016, Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. - Bebeto Matthews/Copyright 2016 The AP. All rights reserved.

"I'm very keen that all the recommendations in the report are carried out as quickly as possible," he said, ideally within the first five years of any Labour administration.

Professor Adam Tomkins, a constitutional lawyer at the University of Glasgow and former Conservative MSP, pointed out this was not the first time ex-PM Brown had unveiled a similar plan.

"When Gordon Brown became Prime Minister his first act was to publish a grand scheme for constitutional reform," Tomkins wrote, referring to a Green Paper introduced at Westminster in 2007 by Brown's new government called The Governance of Britain.

That paper also sought to reform the House of Lords, toughen up a code of conduct for Members of Parliament, and devolve more power to the regions.

It proposed a range of other ideas which seem to have now been resurfaced by Brown in his latest vision for Britain under a Labour government. 

"It crumbled into dust and went absolutely nowhere. [Fifteen] years on, he’s still playing the same tired tunes," said Tomkins.

Mixed messages on Brexit

In Monday morning media interviews, Keir Starmer was also asked about Brexit.

The New Britain plan wants to make trade policy "more inclusive of devolved leaders across the UK, and have an explicit focus on reducing the UK's regional economic inequality" while also noting that too many communities have been cut off from economic growth.

But Starmer said he doesn't think going back into the Single Market would boost economic growth for Britain.

"There's no case for going back to the EU, or going back in to the Single Market. I do think there's a case for a better Brexit," he said. "Trade has gone down because the deal that we've got is not a very good deal."

"Do I think that going back into years of wrangling, years of uncertainty, is going to help our economy, no I don't," he told BBC interviewer Mishal Husain.

"We left and having left there is no case now for saying ‘go back’ and go into the single market and customs union.”

Politicians from the Scottish National Party in particular have criticised Labour's hard line on Brexit.

“The fact is, Labour are now a pro-Brexit party with a pro-Brexit leader," said Keith Brown, the SNP deputy leader -- who has no relation to Gordon Brown -- equating Labour with the ruling pro-Brexit Conservative Party.

“Through independence, Scotland can build a genuine partnership of equals with other nations across these islands – not only protecting the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament, but allowing us to escape the failing Brexit-based UK economic model and build a fairer, more prosperous and sustainable Scotland," said Keith Brown.