Monday, 26 September 2011

Constitution (5)

"For in reason, all government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery."
Jonathan Swift
"Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage."
H.L. Mencken
Two statements that are as true for central government as that for local government. Consider just how much of our lives are regulated by politicians, matters on which the people have had no voice, not having been asked - and on this point don't even think of mentioning the process known as 'consultation'. When in captivity monkeys are generally kept in cages for the entertainment of onlookers, in the course of which they tend to form families or tribes - which neatly sums up the Houses of Parliament and it's inhabitants, the only problem being that the onlookers appear not to be that interested in the entertainment on offer, which when the first quotation is taken into consideration probably accounts for the lack of interest by the onlookers.

The time has come the Walrus said, to talk of many things (and read many links)......

When dealing with national government - Constitution (4) - it was proposed that national politicians dealt only with national matters and that as a result everything else could be devolved to local authorities. It was also suggested that matters of how local politicians were elected would be exactly the same as for national politicians; that any requirements they had for funds to provide services should be presented to the electorate in the form of a quotation or estimate; that any proposed decision suggested or wishing to be implemented could be challenged by the electorate; and that any manifesto be made a legal contract with the same provisions as any contract, namely failure to meet the terms of a contract contained penalty clauses.

Before considering matters like law & order, education or health provision, it is necessary to consider the basic means by which local services can be provided, ie the means of funding.The means to obtain funds to provide 'services', whether those 'services' be national or local, requires a system of taxation, so why should local authorities not have the ability to raise local taxation to pay for the services local people want? What business is it of national politicians what 'services' local people require, nor how the money for those services is provided? Consider, if local authorities were required to be self-financing it would present a situation which we have never, ever had in this country - namely a downward pressure on taxation.

In their paper, "The Plan", Hannan and Carswell proposed that local authorities could finance themselves by the retention of Business Rates and the imposition of a local Sales Tax, a tax on top of existing taxes. Their assertion was that as the amount of VAT collected is, as near as damn it, the amount that central governments makes available to local authorities in grants, the ability to set a local sales tax would put local authorities in competition with each other to set a sales tax sufficiently low enough to attract both business and people and thus create a downward pressure on taxation, whilst not increasing the tax burden on the individual. However instead of a local sales tax, consider the imposition of a Land Value Tax (LVT). As Mark Wadsworth writes here, at the very least LVT could and should replace all property-related taxes, such as Council Tax, Business Rates, Stamp Duty Land Tax, Inheritance Tax, Capital Gains Tax and the TV Licence fee, net of Council Tax Benefit and subsidies for agricultural landowners. (The figures provided are obviously out of date, but the principal behind his idea remains the same) On the basis that simplicity is the best of all systems, it leaves little manoeuvre for tax evasion as would a national flat tax, whilst at the same time saving all the bureaucratic expense of administering a complicated tax system(s) and the prevention of fraud - whilst also making a few thousand public sector payroll employees redundant - and what is not to like in that idea....... On the subject of business taxation, there are two further papers from Mark Wadsworth, here and here, for your consideration.

Why cannot law & order be decided locally? Why should someone in say Cornwall be forced to live by the same standards as someone in say Yorkshire, if the majority views differ? If those within one local authority vote for a zero tolerance on crime, why should not their police force implement that policy? If those within one local authority vote for a harsher regime in their prisons, why should they not have their wishes granted? To digress slightly, as with all political intentions, to devolve power to the people the Coalition's proposals for elected Police & Crime Commissioners - intended to replace Police Authorities and whose remit would be to hold the police to account - are meaningless, when also considering it is the intention to reorganise ACPO making them the body responsible for setting standards and best practise. Such an elected official would be powerless to deliver the type of law & order that people may want. What should be done in my opinion, if it is wished to provide the people with control of their police forces, is for the Chief Constable of each local authority to be elected - to become, in effect, the equivalent of a US sheriff for a fixed term of say four years. Agreed a national police force would be required to handle such matters as organised crime, money laundering and terrorism as examples; but at least it would leave what may be called 'day-to-day crime' for local people to decide. The basis on which a reorganisation of our police forces could be made can be viewed here and here.

As with any service, be it private or public, the 'user' should have the right to decide that on which he wishes to spend his/her money - none more so than where the education of his/her child is concerned. Other than setting obligatory requirements - that every child should attend school between the ages of 5 and 16; and that certain 'core' subjects should be taught - why should central government be involved? Is it not the right of any parent to decide how their children are taught, what discipline is involved and the type of school they wish to be provided? Why should they also not decide who forms the teaching staff?

Health care could also be devolved and be provided much cheaper and more efficiently by means of the introduction of a measure that should have been enacted yonks ago - compulsory health insurance. This could be accomplished by ensuring that health insurance covered the costs of medical treatment and hospitalisation of the insured. That is not to say that the insured should not bear some of the cost and this could be covered by an 'excess' which would affect the premiums payable (much as car insurance can). It is accepted that any 'transitional period' could be painful and may be expensive and there are far better brains than mine who could devise the system by which that could be accomplished with as little pain as possible.

Welfare is another area that could also be handled locally and in this regard you may find this and this as methods which could be used. There are suggestions that tapping into personal pride, shame and community spirit can bring far better results than government originated and controlled ideas about instilling a feeling of being part of a Big Society. It would also, I suggest, counter the invasion into child care by social services, one that would seem to be open to question where 'best practise' is concerned!

Whatever aspect of our society one chooses to view, be it drug libralisation; store opening hours; pub opening hours; minimum age to purchase alcohol or tobacco; speed limits, etc - it is for local people to decide, not central government.

In concentrating on the aforementioned areas exampled it would enable local authorities to become (a) more efficient; (b) more cost effective; (c) more attractive to both people and businesses as areas in which to live and invest; and (d) provide that element of driving down the level of taxation. It would also ensure that local councillors would need to be far more than the voting fodder they currently are; consequently it would attract a far better qualified candidate. A further requirement would be that those council employees who are in positions of responsibility - such as Council Leaders, Heads of Departments, etc should also be elected and not appointed - after all, there is nothing like the concentration of mind to ensure best standard of performance........

In this series of papers entitled "Constitution" I do not assume to believe I have the answers to the many deficits in the present system of democracy under which we live - and one that is a sham with regard to the word "democracy". All I have attempted to do is to offer suggestions for an alternative basis on which a new democracy - one that would put people in charge of the society in which they choose to live; one that would limit the uncontrolled power presently exercised by our politicians; one that would return both politicians and people to their rightful heirachal status - could be instigated. Whichever party you turn to - even Ukip - they all base their creeds on the existence of politicians, in other words they maintain that their existence and that of their representatives is a necessary element of democracy. It has been said that all all institutions are prone to corruption and to the vices of their members and that the eradication of corruption is not enough to sustain a country, neither is corruption solely to be found amongst politicians - but the latter is a damn good place to start.

People do not need to be instructed how to live their lives, given the freedom to so decide they will soon do that amongst themselves - and in so doing they will soon agree some common principles, principles they will fight to the death to protect. In the meantime, like Switzerland, the people of the UK wish to be left alone to lead their lives as they wish - and to protect those rights of other nations within the Commonwealth to do likewise.

In conclusion - to purloin a phrase used quite frequently by Mark Wadsworth - what's not to like?

* In Constitution (4) it was suggested that the House of Lords may not be needed, bearing in mind the proposed final say by the people. A suggestion for a new 'Constitution' has been forwarded me and I will publish that, one that presumes a retention of that House. I will also attempt to draft an alternative, allowing for the dissolution of the 'Other Place'.


Anonymous said...


I'm concerned, that even as we consider changing the form of government to Localism or Referism, essentially a Swiss type of democracy, we are still talking of politicians of the national or local type. That is, its back to "us" and "them". Over time, the "thems" will subvert Localism to what is currently now in place.

The main point in Referism or Localism of the Swiss type is that the power resides with the people by way of Localism and Referenda. But more important then the above two in ensuring that, is that there is no "us" and "them". The vast majority of "politicians" in Switzerland are not really politicians as we understand, but in full time paid employment in other jobs. As public minded citizens, they give off their free time to be of service to the nation as politicians. They are not paid but for a small figure in expenses. They come and go by way of elections or their own choice. No money is involved as a career politician needs. No patronage either, as that generally happens with career politicians.

The power rests with the people for several reasons

1. Localism right down to the parish level.

2. Taxation set by the people, with a federal maximum that can be taken in tax - that is, it puts a limit on the money available to the government

3. People give their free time to serve the nation as "politicians" for a limited time, and not as a career choice.

4. A citizens militia -people have weapons at home if push comes to shove.

Question - Do we as a nation, have the culture of volunteering to serve the nation, with no thanks except the satisfaction of having done one's duty?

Anonymous said...

I rather like DP111's take on it. An effective, affordable and workable blend of freedom and responsibility for oneself and an implicit responsibility to work together for the common good.

Question - Do we as a nation, have the culture of volunteering to serve the nation, with no thanks except the satisfaction of having done one's duty?

The answer is 'we used to' and probably still do 'under the surface'.
Personally I would be more than happy to spend a period of time in service if it meant keeping the 'freedom system' going for my children to grow into and adapt.

Any form of government we have needs to be limited by its constitution which is created by the people and can only be amended by the people. In other words a small government that does as it's told.

The Swiss model is an excellent starting point.

Bill said...

Sorry that was me forgot to click the name thingy... it's early... I need coffee!

WitteringsfromWitney said...

DP111 & Bill: I thought I had made plain earlier in (4) that national politicians could be cut and that the required 'sittings' greatly reduced as a consequence - hence they would indeed by part-time. I would have no objection to their receiving 'expenses' (overnite stay etc as well as any necessary trips abroad) but they would in effect be 'managers' and no more.

As to 'them' taking over, there would be a clause in the constitution that stated any further changes must be subject to a referendum of the people. What is being suggested is something radical and as with politicians not wishing to cede their power, so with the people once they have had a taste of something that was stolen from them.

The points made in your second para is exactly what I am suggesting if you read all the Constitution series........ I repeat they can propose any law they like but it would be open to challenge by the people and a referendum (as with the Swiss). I have already covered item 2 in your list when I suggested that manifestos (if we are still to have such things) would have to contain an estimate for what is considered to be required to provide the services for which they would be responsible - be that national or local.

I repeat what I am suggesting is a radical change to our democratic system and requires a radical change in people and how they view themselves.

Anonymous said...

Its not just a change in the constitution but a culture change that is required, where people take an active interest in the course of their community. Even in Switzerland, the usual suspects are attempting to have exceptions to localism. Their thesis is that society and the world is so complex, that some matters are best dealt by "experts", ie career politicians. Once such exceptions are allowed, the principle of localism will be breached. Therefore, the Swiss have always to be on guard to safeguard their core principles from continuous attempts to breach them.

It is not sufficient to have principles, but also a people whose whole culture and habits requires them to keep an eye on attempts to circumvent localism and referendums.

For a culture change to be set in motion, we require a beneficial crisis. Fortunately, we may have one in the near future.

There are other things in play, chief among them being the Internet. Advances in communications technology has allowed government and large corporations to extract our money from us without as much as a by your leave. But this same technology can be harnessed to bring them all to heel.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

DP111: All fair points - we are I believe agreed on the fact that this change is urgently required. Now the idea of culture change needs to be sold too.