The views expressed here are those of the Direct Democracy think-tank, not of our supporters, the authors of our book or the Conservative Party itself. Similarly, guest contributors are expressing their own views, and not those of Direct Democracy.
In a similar vein, our supporters do not necessarily endorse each and every one of the policy prescriptions contained within our publications, such as The Localist Papers
Send for the sheriff (or council leader)
Hot on the heels of last week’s report on localised transport policy, the New Local Government Network this week published a study recommending a radical decentralisation of policing in the U.K. They advocate the abolition of Police Authorities and the transfer of their powers – deployment of resouces, prioritisation of offences and control of budgets – to local council leaders or elected mayors. We agree in part – Police Authorities are highly inneffectual appointed bodies whose independence in relation to local policing priorities is hamstrung by Home Office diktat. However, we believe that transferring their powers to a council leader would only be effective where this happened to be a directly-elected Mayor.
When we first put forward this idea it was seen as radical. Now it is mainstream
In local authorities with non-directly elected council leaders (the vast majority), we would argue that directly-elected sheriffs are the only way to restore true democratic accountability to the Police. However, it is nice to see the NLGN join those of us calling for root and branch reform of local policing. When we first put forward this idea in 2002 it was seen as radical. Now it is mainstream. We hope that others come round to our point of view on some of our other ideas; such as scraping council tax and VAT and replacing it with a local sales tax, local education vouchers, a right of popular initative and democratising the quangos and the judiciary.
Danes to get vote on EU (but its not the treaty)
The decision of the new Danish Government to hold a referendum (their sixth in 35 years) on their current opt-outs from the EU – on defence, justice and home affairs, citizenship and the euro – has been welcomed by Open Europe. They speculate that Prime Minister Rasmussen’s proposal is actually a dishonest attempt to distract from the promised referendum on the Constitution but they conclude that the prospect of a referendum on EU issues will generally help to put pressure on other EU leaders. As ever, we urge readers to sign up to the Daily Telegraph’s online petition.
Meanwhile, Christopher Booker reports on how the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames has been forced to delay the redevelopment of their Eden Quarter as a result of a European Court of Justice ruling under the EU Procurement Directive. The Council are now compelled to put the contract out to tender across Europe, costing local taxpayers £450,000 to recompense the original developers. As Mr Booker puts it: “the tentacles of our new government in Brussels stretch far into the nooks and crannies of our national life.”
Matthew D’Ancona writes a fascinating article in the Spectator about how the ‘Wiki’ (or google / youtube / facebook) generation is transforming the face of politics – returning power back to the grassroots, where individuals and groups of individuals can have a massive influence on the democratic process. With echoes of David Cameron’s recent ‘post-bureaucratic era’ speech to the Google conference, D’Ancona concludes that: “A different, decentralised, unformed moral and political economy is emerging all around us”.
Devolution a decade on
The Justice Select Committee of the House of Commons has launched a highly topical inquiry entitled Devolution: A Decade On which, intriguingly, will look at how devolution is functioning for the United Kingdom as a whole, not just its constituent parts. The Committee might do worse than read Alex Salmond’s interview in the Spectator this week, which encapsulates all the reasons why Labour’s messy devolution settlement needs to be completed.
Mixed messages on education policy
The Guardian previews the Conservative Party’s detailed policy proposals on education that will herald a supply-side revolution by allowing parents and other groups to set up new schools with state funding and freeing most schools from local authority control. However, Michael Gove’s weekend pledge to replace the current key stage 1 test with a short reading test at the age of six has come in for criticism for being anti-localist. Progressive Vision argue that it is illogical for the Conservatives “who last week preached localism and derided Labour’s target culture” to set a new centralised reading target for all schools. The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson writes in a similar vein: “The plan for pioneer / direct grant / Swedish / voucher / whateveryouwanttocallthem schools empowers and trusts teachers. Today’s initiative seeks to do their job for them.”
David Cameron’s announcements on the democratisation of council tax last week were a welcome acceptance that the current system of raising town hall revenue is, to coin a new-labourism – not fit for purpose. Direct Democracy’s Daniel Hannan puts the case for self-financing local councils as a way to address this problem. He argues that the simplest, fairest and most competitive way of doing this is through replacing national VAT with a variable rate local sales tax.
Thumbs up for localised control of transport
The New Local Government Network this week published a report calling for a substantial localisation of transport policy. Their two most significant recommendations are devolving the existing regulatory powers of England’s six unelected and appointed-for-life Traffic Commissioners to local council leaders and giving local authorities the power to introduce locally-defined congestion charging or road pricing schemes instead of the Government’s proposed one size fits all national scheme.
Sir Humphrey and the Sustainable Communities Act
Speaking on Youtube, Campaigns Director for Unlock Democracy, Ron Bailey, discusses how the new Sustainable Communities Act could transform the political landscape by providing local people with a means of challenging current top-down Government imposed spending priorities. John Jackson, writing on Our Kingdom, gives a damning indictment of the ‘Sir Humphrey’ culture still operating in the civil service. He reports that Whitehall mandarins did their level best to try and derail the progress of the Sustainable Communities Bill as it passed through Parliament, fearing that the resultant Act would transfer significant amounts of power away from them to local communities and councils.
Scottish MPs’ West Lothian angst
The Scotsman reports growing unease amongst Scottish Labour MP’s over Gordon Brown’s apparent disinclination to address the West Lothian question, in the face of considerable pressure from the Conservatives. David Hamilton, Labour MP for Midlothian argues: “In the long term, England needs to be devolved and to develop its own strategy and the [UK] parliament then covers the four nations’ parliaments.” Others favour resurrecting John Prescott’s doomed elected regional assemblies. We agree with David Hamilton – the most elegant and effective solution is to devolve equivalent powers to the lowest possible level throughout the U.K., leaving matters only of common interest such as defence and energy policy to the Westminster Parliament. All MPs would then be on an equal footing and the UK would have a genuinely localist constitutional settlement.
Thinking the unthinkable
In our last bulleting we reported on Frank Field’s latest proposals to ‘think the unthinkable’ on welfare and state benefits. Mr Field’s full report is now available from Reform and takes up many of the themes that we set out in our Localist Paper – ‘Local Welfare’.