Harrogate (v)

“All governments are more or less combinations against the people. . .and as rulers have no more virtue than the ruled. . . the power of government can only be kept within its constituted bounds by the display of a power equal to itself, the collected sentiment of the people.” - Benjamin Franklin Bache, in a Philadelphia Aurora editorial, 1794

Richard North, EUReferendum, following his post on MPs (here and here), has now tackled the subject of local government. I waited to comment on the MPs post as I wished to see that which he wrote about local government, coupled with the fact that the two are ‘related’.

It is accepted by all attendees at Harrogate and those commenting that while politics is not for amateurs and that the scrutiny of government, the vetting and approval of legislation, and other activities in a properly functioning parliament, require considerable skill and aptitude, that does not mean that the end result should not (a) have had input from the people nor (b) that the end result should not be subject to the approval of the people. As Richard North noted in MPs Part II, a few quick fixes are not going to address, much less solve, the deep-seated problems. I do not believe that I am alone in my assertion that the model of representative democracy, as it presently exists, is not fit for purpose which means that if changes are to be made then we may as well start with a ‘clean sheet’.

When discussing the separation of powers, there would appear to be a preponderance of opinion that this means a separation of power between the executive and the legislature within a system of representative democracy. However, if we are of the opinion that we accept the need for ‘people power’ and power rising from the bottom rather than descending from the top; is not the question of separation of power not also one between the people and the political class?

Another point that was suggested was that dependent on the size of a constituency, perhaps more than one MP is required. This raises three further points, namely (a) are we not concerned with the cost of government, in which case why are we suggesting increasing the cost even more; (b) just why is an MP concerned with mundane local matters when he/she should be more concerned with matters of state; and (c) why do we elect and pay for local politicians who are no more than office clerks to central government, coupled with the question what exactly do they do besides acting as nodding dogs?

This neatly leads into Richard North’s latest article, following Harrogate, in which the question of local government is raised. To repeat the question posed earlier: just what do local politicians do and what is their purpose? As Richard North quite correctly points out:

“Local government units are centrally defined, by Act of Parliament. They owe their existence, their boundaries and their powers to the diktats of central government. They are funded primarily from the centre and the nature of monies which are collected locally are directed by the centre, as well as the amounts and terms of collection.

This, by any definition, is a top-down society. And, as a result, local elections have become little more than extended opinion polls on the performance of central government. There is little point in getting excited over the election of local officials when almost the entire extent of their powers is determined by national law.”

It must therefore be accepted by all that local government ‘per se’ does not presently exist and as Richard North suggests, how can something that does not exist be reformed? If there is a need to  build it anew, ground up, providing the British people with something which is truly local and which is also government in the proper sense of the word and not just local administration, then why not continue the process and take it to its logical conclusion – which is national government? If we are to have true local government, a system which would involve local politicians, as at present, answerable to a few hundred people in their ward – and national politicians only having responsibility for a small number of matters, then why do we need 650 of them?

The subject of taxation is tackled in Richard North’s article and the point made that local authorities would become self-financing bodies. What ever the merits and demerits there are between a ‘precept’ model compared to two tax demands – one from central government and one from local government – the mechanics can be discussed at a later date. Either way local authorities would become self-sufficient in that they could raise funds by means of a sales tax or a land value tax (again the merits or demerits of both can be debated later). Immediately the cries can be heard: oh, not another tax; don’t we pay enough? Consider: the amount that central government presently provides to local authorities by way of a grant is virtually that which it collects in VAT – so with the abolition of VAT, the ‘cost’ to the public will be the same. As with national government having to provide an estimate of expenditure for public acceptance – under referism – so would local governments. This means that local people would decide what ‘services’ they are prepared to fund – coupled with how and to whom said services would be provided.

There is a ‘bonus point’ about local taxation that may initially escape the notice of readers in that if a local authority sets a sales tax, or land value tax, higher than that of its neighbouring county one can imagine the effect that would have on people’s behaviour. To give an example, were Berkshire to set a higher tax rate than say Oxfordshire, it is not illogical to presume that a goodly number of people from Berkshire would travel to Oxfordshire for shopping – and may even make the decision to move home. Likewise with the business rate, companies would have an incentive to locate to Oxfordshire, rather than Berkshire, thus increasing the ‘wealth’ of Oxfordshire. This scenario would provide something that we have never had in this country, namely a downward pressure on taxation. To coin a phrase – whats not to like?

During my attempts to promote the adoption of direct democracy an impression has been gained that it is felt I am suggesting that we should perform a ‘cut n paste’ job – this is not correct, in fact the Swiss system is quite complex. However the basic principle of Swiss direct democracy is that the people are the supreme political authority; and consider their system where the separation of power is concerned. The legislature, the executive and the judiciary are separate in terms of their personnel, but are only divided in terms of their function. This means that no-one may belong to more than one of the three federal authorities (parliament, government and the Supreme Court) at the same time.

A brief guide (2012 edition) to the Swiss system of direct democracy can be accessed here - it is worthy of study as there are many aspects contained therein which are of importance when considering the questions we raise in our discussions. It is also worth noting that because of the ‘people veto’ that can ultimately be employed, political parties of differing ideologies are forced to work together for the good of the country and that politicians are forced to consult far more with local government and the people in general to ensure that proposals they wish to introduce have majority support before they are tabled.

 

 


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14 Responses

  1. tsb says:

    “It is accepted by all attendees at Harrogate and those commenting that while politics is not for amateurs and that the scrutiny of government”

    I can assure you that this attendee at Harrogate most certainly accept that! I rather approve of being governed by amateurs as they’re probably less inclined or capable of causing real damage.

    • david says:

      Actually, rereading that which I wrote, I now realize I could have expressed myself better……..

      All politicians (providing they have not been through the PPE method) are amateurs when first elected. However those with experience of the outside world’ are, I would contend, more likely to ‘look at all angles’ before rushing into passing half-arsed laws.

      When said politicians have held their position as MP and they can no longer be classified as amateurs, providing they are doing the job for which they were elected then as far as I am concerned they can continue.

      It is interesting that some Swiss politicians have been ‘in office’ for over 20 years – still on a part-time basis.

    • Andy Baxter says:

      interesting point of view, I shall ponder this…..

  2. Anne says:

    This ‘localism’ is yet another extra layer of Governance which this Country has never had before and introduced at a time when the people can least afford it. We are already paying Billions of extra money out for the massive Layer of Governance we have never had before-THAT OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, yet I do not see a reduction in either Houses in Parliament.

    The idea of Localismn for this Country came from the EU and is recorded on the Council of Europe’s Web site. Our EU Regions may even be governed through the EUeu by the Committee of the Regions.

    It is also noted in the United Nations.

    Is it any wonder we have had to reduce our Forces, reduce money for the elderly etc.

    • Andy Baxter says:

      I don’t see this as a layer of extra Govt Anne, rather its a trimming down to local level of autonomy and sovereignty to arrive at decision making and implementation at a local level.

      clearly we still need central governance to deal with national interests; air traffic control, defence, foreign affairs, etc but why do we need top down diktats one size fits all do as I say not as I do control that does not reflect the reality of what locales actually have to endure? would it not be better if they could elect their own executive, have a local legislature that oversees scrutinises and calls to account via referenda and oversight said local executive and along with that the ability to raise revenue to deal with local issues the people in that area actually want dealt with?

      BIG is not beautiful, I had a peice published in the FT financial adviser section about just this subject last week. won letter of week as it happens and I’m yet to opent eh two bottles of Burgundy which was my prize!

      ‘localism’ as the EU and our Westminster cosy club closeted friends see it is just a euphamism, in reality there is no change to the unitary (top down) nature of how we are governed. and never will be until we take back that control.

      we are proposing seismic structural change that for me creates economic and cultural changes in the way we are governed and the type of people who would be attracted to run for office. also the local people if they can see and know and feel and believe their input at a local level manifests itself as real change and benefits for their communities, and frankly if its local its likely to be part time people who run it anyway called to deal with the issues of the locale as they arise and therefore no way could salary’s of £65K plus and expenses of hundreds of thousands of pounds be justified or allowed via a system of ‘referism’

      its all about control and the exercise of power, always has been! what we are proposing is to shift that balance back to where it belongs to us the people not faceless buearocrats and apparatchiks in Brussles and whitehall or remote out of touch MP’s in Westminster….

    • david says:

      Anne, as Andy Baxter intimates in his reply to you, methinks you have totally misunderstood the concept of that which is being proposed. It is not an extra layer of government because we propose ridding ourselves of many layers of central government and replacing them with one of local government.

      Perhaps you need to wake up and smell the coffee?

  3. Roger Clague says:

    Separation of powers is how the political/ruling class avoid the blame for their incompetence. The executive blames the law makers and vice-versa.

    There is no need for separation of powers. Those who make laws should enforce them as well.

    • david says:

      “There is no need for separation of powers”.

      Please explain your reasoning?

    • Robin says:

      They can avoid the blame by saying its the officials , not them .
      The best example is the Home Office being “not fit for purpose ” .
      How do you get it Fit For Purpose ?
      Well we the people cant because there are no laws or constitution , chartist style demand ,or any framework to make them , the civil service ,”work for us ” rather than whatever agenda they espouse , or even if they are just lazy, incompetent or self serving .
      Its as important to put constrints and mandatory working practises on public services as it is to elected people .

      • david says:

        As with Swis politicians knowing that there is no point in trying to bypass the people, so with their bureaucracy – so it will be with ours.

        In any event the Home Office not being fit for purpose is to a certain extent probably due to the myriad of rules and regulations they have to follow: EU, H&S, etc.

        Those that cannot do their job properly get a P45 – simples.

        • Robin says:

          WE have to control the buraecracy , not the politicians .
          WE have to have the means to monitor them (by open government – no secrets ) and the means to bring them to court .
          Otherwise they can house train their politician masters and co conspire against us .

          • david says:

            Can you not see that it matters not whether civil servants house train the politicians or not because whatever policy results will be subject to a referendum if people don’t like what they see being done?

            Why would either civil servants or politicians attempt something that they know cannot succeed. Direct democracy forces both to recognize that in formulating laws that they’re subject to a possible referendum.

            • Robin says:

              Im all for direct democracy , but you must see that goverment is BIG , and opreates in myriads of small ways .
              For example , if we the people want very limited immigration , and the politicians ,to get in power , say they want limited immigration , and laws are passed (even after a referendum ) to restrict immigration , all this means nothing if civil servants can circumnavigate round our expressed wishes .Which they do and will do in the future unless WE the peopkle have readily available means to control , monitor and punish them .
              Representative democracy is very limited and direct democracy is the same limited unless this issue is addressed .

  4. Roger Clague says:

    Separation of powers is designed by the elite and for the elite to keep power for themselves and to prevent ordinary people from getting what they want.

    David why do you think it is necessary?

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