Monday, September 22, 2014

After Scotland:
– Freedom for Barkingside?

BraveheartBack in 1979 a revolution was about to take place. The frontiers of the state were to be rolled back, red tape and bureaucracy were to be culled and we the people were to be set free from state interference in our daily lives to live long and prosper, tax as a proportion of GDP was to be halved, and then halved again. It didn’t happen. And the reason it didn’t happen is because politicians do not like to give up power. The scope for manoeuvre resting with local authorities has steadily declined since, even to the point where the Secretary of State can now intervene and forbid local councils from producing a simple newssheet. Our own Redbridge councillors have been reduced to the point where they now squabble over how much the tea and biscuits cost.

There has been some devolution. Wales, Scotland and Greater London, but these are mixed with a hotch potch of half baked ideas, resulting from, you guessed it politicians who interfere in the design process with the intent to engineer a situation that is beneficial to them or their party. Proportional Representation is fine and dandy for these new institutions but not for those who really hold the reins of power in Westminster.

So, in the wake of the Scotland vote we now have a renewed energy in Westminster for devolution, but will it happen and if it does will it be a dog's breakfast as usual. Our local debate on local democracy, viz the demise of Area Committees is meaningless unless our Local Authority has some actual powers that we the local residents can get involved in and influence the decisions they make. That’s what our local councillors should really be talking about, and not just to us, but to their masters in Westminster.

Here’s a few notes from Redbridge Deputy Leader, Wes Streeting, taken from Facebook:
Glad we finally have the beginnings of a debate about devolution of power in England. A few thoughts:
  • Anyone who thinks the answer is more politicians isn't listening to what people are saying. We don't need an English Parliament. No new regional assemblies. We have quite enough waste on the public payroll without adding to it.
  • We have a great layer to devolve power to. They're called local authorities. Trust them. They've been tackling budget cuts, shifting goalposts, endless short changing and public service innovation more effectively than Whitehall. We do need to look at the calibre of people we get in local government - elected representation and professional officers - but local government would be up for the challenge.
  • Revisit the shape of local government. Is the current size and shape right?
  • Stop beating up on London. It's a major economic driver for the country and suffers from gross inequality. Maybe scrap the London Assembly and replace it with leaders of London Councils. No offence to sitting members (people like Tom Copley and Fiona Twycross work really hard and try to leverage as much as they can from their office) but it's a toothless talking shop and I resent paying for it as a taxpayer.
  • The biggest political reform needed isn't structural, it's cultural. It takes more than a bullet point to deal with this, but essentially it's about politicians being authentic, honest about tough choices and clear about the values that inform them.
And here’s a Statement from Katie Ghose of the Electoral Reform Society:
This referendum has demonstrated that when it comes to deciding the future of our country, people want to be asked. It would be a terrible waste if we do not build on that passion by ensuring everyone in the UK, and not just Scots, have a say in where power lies.
Now is not the time for top-down commands on our constitution, issued by political leaders in the immediate, frenzied aftermath of this momentous vote. The future shape of the country is too important to be rushed through Parliament without consulting the people.
We need a UK-wide, citizen-led Constitutional Convention to determine where power lies in the future. We can draw on international examples to create a process which does justice to people’s passion for change.
Such a process needs clarity of purpose, and certainty about how its conclusions will be taken forward. It needs the full support of all the political parties, but it must also retain its independence from them.
Above all, a UK Constitutional Convention must capitalise on the enormous amounts of interest and passion sparked in Scotland by the independence referendum, and bring that passion for determining our political future to the rest of the United Kingdom.
But when we have reports like this, I am minded not to hold my breath:
A Parliamentary report reveals that £200 million has been wasted on failed 'public-private' PFI projects for waste management, writes David Hall. The obvious solution: to allow local authorities to build and operate their own, which is cheaper and more flexible. The only problem: under UK government rules, it's PFI or nothing. More ...
We have to move beyond the doctrines and ideologies that prescribe everything should be in the private sector or everything should in the public sector. We have to make a sound judgement as to which is better in each individual case and we need politicians and the media to be honest with us. No more nonsense like we subsidize railways but invest in roads. Or we subsidize renewable energy but invest in fossil and nuclear. And the biggy, we have to rethink how we fund local democracy through taxation, particularly business rates, and perhaps have a good look at a proportion of VAT being kept locally.

Here’s Nick Clegg explaining that his is bigger than Natalie Bennett’s.

Further Reading:

Scottish Referendum Has to Bring Real Change Across the UK

Why it's time for a People's Convention to draw up a new constitution for our country


  1. Personally, I am all for an Independent London separate from the rest of England....

    1. And I'm for a Barkingside detached from Tomswood Hill....