Democracy in Localism Bill

Democracy in the Localism Bill: What remains of promised citizen-power if the government caves in to big lobbyists?

The Localism Bill among many, many other topics contains draft law which would introduce some elements of citizen-instigated democracy (1). From the beginning the Bill has offered the right of voters to present a proposal if it has been endorsed by at least one in twenty eligible voters. The Council is then obliged to hold a referendum. Some exceptions were defined from the beginning and in response to lobbyists (e.g. some companies many from the building industry, electricity suppliers, even some environmentalists) and local government associations, additional grounds which would enable councils to refuse a valid referendum demand (“petition”) were inserted by the government.

The democracy on offer in the Localism Bill has been transformed to look more like forms of consultation or control available to local governments.

Never has the Conservative/Libdem coalition gone so far as to propose in draft legislation that a referendum resulting from a citizens’ proposition could lead to a ballot which is legally binding (2, 3). Again, if this is how things remain, then the democracy of the Localism Bill, which was supposed to fulfill the election promise of devolving real political power to citizens as well as councils, will turn out to be little more than a time-wasting and frustrating framework for consultation or petitioning, procedures which we have had for a very long time.

The Localism Bill has not completed its passage through Parliament (4) so there remains time to improve it. For instance, an amendment to make the results of local referendum legally binding has been presented by Zac Goldsmith MP and other members.

1. Memorandum  (L 40) on Localism Bill,  published by House of Commons Public Bill Committee

2. Season for change in Britain? Citizen-led democracy. Iniref 2010

3. The Coalition Agreement 2010. How about the promised shift of “power to the people”?  Iniref 2010

4.  The Localism Bill main page

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