Tuesday, 29 November 2011

There is a better way......... (3)

Following my initial post on the subject of direct democracy, which elicited a response from Richard North, EU Referendum, I replied. He has responded thus - and being the good chap that he is, he has saved me the trouble of supplying links to the previous posts in the 'chain'. Kindly acknowledging that my reply to his initial response raised much food for thought, he acknowledges that my reply raised an interesting question as to where democracy lies, adding a requirement to consider the nature of the demos, which supposedly drives decision-making.

We are both agreed that the UK is characterised by being one of the most centralised, top-down systems of government in the world, with local government largely financed by central government, and acting as an agent for it, with no independent status or constitution. Richard then accepts that any new settlement, therefore, must undo the Walker "reforms" of 1974, which created these giant, unresponsive and fundamentally undemocratic administrative units, with the focus on allowing communities to develop their own identities and to control their own destinies. That acceptance must surely underline the point that is made, namely that in any true form of democracy 'invertation' (is that a word?) of 'representative democracy' is an essential element of change, so that the power starts - as it must - at local level, and is controlled from there, rather than centralised, with diktats handed down from the central authority.

Making the point that, as in Bradford, there is no meaningful form of local government nationally, Richard then homes in on the root cause of the problem by raising the question of local tax raising powers. He, justifiably, makes the point that much is made of council tax; that it accounts for less than twenty percent of local government finance;  that more than sixty percent comes from central government, handed down according to arcane formulas and political prejudice. Yes, most definitely, locally raised taxation should be sufficient - and no more - to fund  the local government functions in the area, without having to go cap-in-hand to central government. Mention is made that perhaps a local income tax should be introduced, although I would personally prefer any local tax to be based on land values - a taxation method favoured by Mark Wadsworth - but, again, I digress.

Richard North and I are, I believe, both agreed that any budget of expenditure - be that national or local - should be presented to the electorate in the form of a quotation, one that requires acceptance or rejection. These 'budget quotations' should have inbuilt a reasonable 'excess' to cater for emergencies - therefore that would negate any necessity for any 'surplus' to be passed upwards to 'central'. The premise that Richard North proposes - that direct democracy needs to start at the bottom, controlling the flow of money – which should move upwards to the centre, by permission, not downwards by fiat; that politicians should always be made acutely aware that they spend our money, and should be required to ask for it each year, is unarguable.

It is worth mentioning one important fact here, one that has an immediate effect on the cost of living for the individual and, ultimately, the economic benefit of the country. As I have previously posted, many times, were local district councils (which is the closest equation to a Swiss Canton) able to set their own local tax revenue rates, we would have a situation never, to my knowledge, ever experienced in this country - namely a downward pressure on taxation. It is also worth remembering that the amount of VAT raised equates almost exactly with the amount central government grants to local authorities, so there should be no increase in overall taxation rates - which could of course be lowered nationally were our country to adopt a 'flat-tax' policy and raise the minimum 'tax-rate' - but again I digress....

Once again, I have to agree with Richard's closing paragraph where he writes that top-down government is not democracy - however I cannot accept, nor fail to see why, the alternative should result in what he terms 'giant administrative units'. Overall, methinks that Richard North and I are not a million miles away from agreement. On that basis, perhaps an 'agreed' form of democracy could be arrived at, one that could be presented to every political party with the suggestion that it be adopted - and if not, why not? Failure to accept direct democracy would indeed illustrate that the present polical class are indeed a dictatorial entity with self-preserving interests based on personal power and venality. Following that the next step, for those that believe direct democracy holds the key to our future, must be to draw up a 'codifying' document, one that draws together the Magna Carta, the Bills of Rights, Common Law and the basic principles of direct democracy into a new 'constitution'. That is the next 'step' and one that I intend undertaking and if there is anyone who would like to be involved, then please contact me.


Stuart said...

I think I've given you as much as I can, what worth that is. I never did a bill of rights because I know how problematic the American bor is when it comes to property rights etc. But a bor is political rights such as habeas corpus, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly rather than social rights. I've seen the mistake of confusing the two a few times.

I guess my philosophy was to have a stab at it rather than perfection. I can change and have changed it. Watching the debate between yourself and RN is fantastic. Come on WFW, have a stab at it.

cuffleyburgers said...


Appreciate your efforts on this important issue, but as far as I can see it the problem is simply that people expect too much from government - govt is expected to have a response to everything. THerefore who is actually in governemtn really matters. If govt could be put back in its box with central govt only responsible for defence etc etc and local services such as roads, rubbish collection were provided at county level then it wouldn't matter who was in charge because their powers would be limited by statute.

That is what we have to work towards - not who is there but rather how to limit their power, and the only way to do that is to have a massive groundswell of feeling in the country.

The only way to achieve this paradigm shift is to have effective, charismatic characters bomdarding the media. This can only be effective if they can get good coverage in the BBC as well and that can only happen once that organisation has been severely shaken up.

Without getting this seachange of public opinion we might as well save our breath.

Objective 1 therefore has to be control of the airwaves which means in practical terms to smash the BBC.

Now is a good moment for that.

Let's use the coming crisis for this.

Tarka the Rotter said...

Would love to be involved in some way, so count me in!

Anonymous said...

WfW you gotta stand for office, it's the only way.

James Higham said...

On that basis, perhaps an 'agreed' form of democracy could be arrived at, one that could be presented to every political party with the suggestion that it be adopted - and if not, why not?

Too much trust in them. Have to be voted out first and this presented to the ragtag who do get voted in. See OoL.

TomTom said...

must undo the Walker "reforms" of 1974, which created these giant, unresponsive and fundamentally undemocratic administrative units,<

You mean Redcliffe-Maude Committee set up in 1966 with Vic Feather (TUC) and T Dan Smith among its members. Yorkshire was perfectly well-served by the West Riding for those areas not sucked into the Bradford pit until 1974....but Top-Down is the way the country has run since 1066

In fact until Labour nationalised electricity and gas in 1945; and Conservatives nationalised Water in 1974; Councils had quite a good business using utility profits to fund transport.

The real story of Local Government is Expropriation of Assets and Income Streams by Central Government and Offloading of Costs and Responsibilities onto local councils

Sean O'Hare said...

Following that the next step, for those that believe direct democracy holds the key to our future, must be to draw up a 'codifying' document, one that draws together the Magna Carta, the Bills of Rights, Common Law and the basic principles of direct democracy into a new 'constitution

You have to be careful that what you propose here doesn't morph into something approaching the Coalition's new Bill of Rights.

Perhaps your proposal isn't a million miles away from what Nigel Farage was proposing when he got shot down in flames by members because he referred to it as a new Bill of Rights?

PeterCharles said...

cuffleyburgers has the right of it. Government is simply too big and too entrenched in every facet of life for any kind of reform to be effective, even an inversion of the democratic pyramid. Never forget the first law of bureaucracy is self-preservation, the second is self-expansion (in both size and power) and the third is resist and minimise all change that doesn't support the first two.

Local government would love to have the power to make policy. In fact it was given limited powers to that effect in the 70s, something the loony left immediately seized upon which quickly had central government beating them off of it again. It is also important to remember that local government is far more prone to corruption than central government.

What we need is less government and what is left to be largely neutered by disallowing public borrowing in general and fixing government expenditure at no more than 15% of GDP.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

S: I do not decry your effort, one based on the existing system of representative democracy continuing. I will post your offering unaltered, hopefully with two version of mine - one, amending yours to bring in an element of DD and one for DD. It is not my intention to alter the existing two BoR, by the way. But it will take some time........

cb: Appreciate what you say, however does not DD actually provide that which you seem to want? While you still have 'unfettered' representative democracy, you hve a continuation of 'democratised dictatorship'!

To get a 'seachange' of public opinion: do not oak trees grow from little acorns?

TtR: Welcome, you know that to which I aim, so what ideas have you? What should be included? What wording should be used? You can always email me through my blog......?

Saot: No way! I wouldn't last five minutes! Unfortunately I do not suffer fools gladly and when I meet one, I tend to tell them in basic English - Can just imagine that going down well on hustings and in the HoC!

JH: Methinks you misunderstand? It gets offered and if refused then a new political party, with the principles of DD embedded, gets formed. Perhaps, as I suggested, Ukip takes it onboard?

TT: Agree with your general thrust.

SO'H: Methinks you too misunderstand? See reply to Stuart?

PC: Appreciate your points, but is that not what DD prevents, both nationally and locally?

That a 'seachange' of public opinion on democracy is needed and must be made - that it would take time - is not denied. But as I said elsewhere, do not oak trees grow from little acorns?

I will not see any change in my lifetime, perhaps not in yours also, but if the seed is sown....?

Sean O'Hare said...


I'm afraid that I still don't understand. You seem to suggest that we need something (re-)codifying and combining Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, Habeus Corpus etc., but rejecting the idea of an updated Bill of Rights or whatever it would end up being called. Personally I don't think an updated Bill of Rights is necessary or desirable. But I would like to understand your viewpoint as I value your opinion more than most bloggers I read. Could you explain further please?

WitteringsfromWitney said...

SO'H: Whilst I still have to 'think this through', at first sight the existing Bills of Right seem aok. When I talk about bringing together MC, BoRs, Common Law and the requirements of DD, all I am saying is that they need to be encapsulated into one document - one that would further lay down our 'unwritten' democracy with an additional document - understand?

WitteringsfromWitney said...

SO'H: ps: Many thanks for your opinion of my blog!

Sean O'Hare said...


I guess it comes down to what you mean by "document". If you mean an Act of Parliament" (i.e a statute law) then I don't think that gets us much further forward. I new agreement between the Crown and the people (by way of a refendum), on the other hand could be worthwhile. I would think such an agreement could only be codified by an Act of Parliament once all EU related statutes have been repealed.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

SO'H: Any Act of Parl is worthless, in whatever context, as no Parl can bind its sucessor - so any Act could be repealed.

What is needed is an 'addition' to MC and BoRs so that it cannot ever be repealed/amended,

Possibly a referendum another demanding a 'document' to be laid alongside the MC and BoRs, one that cannot be repealed?

Ratification by an AoP is not good, as explained above?

Sean O'Hare said...

Gotcha! Totally agree. Not too many belligerent barons around nowadays, but plenty of belligerent people like you and me (grammar - should that be you and I?). Not enough yet, but we are getting there, but much too slowly as yet. I would like something to happen in my lifetime because I'm very impatient.

Stuart said...

My constitution DOES have DD in it, to recall MP's and also veto legislation.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

S: Already noted - but additions needed? Patience........

IanPJ said...

Some really good debate across these posts so far.
I am heartened by the fact that there is a general acceptance for a codifying document, but that in itself it must become a constitutional document, not a statute, so a referendum on its contents is essential.

Keep up the good work WfW, slowly but surely it is arriving at desired conclusion. then, as others have already indicated it needs to be sold to the public at large, that is where the real work will come in, getting it past the left wing and pro-EU gatekeepers in the MSM.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

IPJ: Thank you for your kind comment.

That the codifying document should become a constitutional document is essential.

Jamess said...

You need a bill or rights that can't be repealed by Parliament without great difficulty.

I'd suggest something which said that:

Any tax/rates increase or

Any new/revised law which creates a new criminal offense/increased fines

must be approved by referendum. Any failure to do so, or to change this law, will mean that tax is no longer obligatory.

This law needs to be simple enough for everyone in Britain to understand (i.e. avoid the temptation to add lots of different clauses) so that if it was ever repealed most people would simply withhold their tax.

WitteringsfromWitney said...

J: Thanks for your input - but see comment from IPJ above. As a 'constitutional document' it could not be repealed!