Friday, February 27, 2009

These are local referendums for local people: we’ll have no trouble here!

The Tories have put out a policy document about ‘returning power to local communities’ (yes, I know, I’m a week behind with the news).

It warns that voters face “a yawning gap between the changes they want to see and those they can directly affect”, and argues that “by making local government more accountable and bringing people closer to the levers of power we can start to restore the trust that’s been lost in our political system”.

Proposals include:

  • give local residents the power to veto high council tax rises via local referendum
  • give people the power to instigate referendums on local issues
  • let local people choose the organisational structures of their local councils

Some would argue, as Paul Evans quite ferociously does, that “these measures provide a veneer of accountability while removing the deliberative policy making processes”.

There’s truth in that: not all good governmental decisions are popular ones, and these proposals would threaten decent policies that incurred the short-term wrath of any number of interest groups, as well as intimidating councils into seeking the easy life.

If local authorities were truly given more powers, chances are we’d see higher turnout for council elections, which would mean stronger public engagement and accountability. The ‘instigate referendums’ policy would hobble councils, making them slaves to populism.

Ask yourself this: if these proposals really would improve the quality of our democracy and government, then why aren’t the Tories proposing plebiscitary checks on national government, and which by its nature is remoter and mightier than local government? It’s because they want to be able to govern effectively.

1 comment:

Richard T said...

Just look at California where the richest state in the USA teeters on the edgfe of default because these voter initiatves cut off revenue that implementing other voter initiatives requires. And the Tories are mature enough to be fit for government?