Parliament committee snubs democracy in Localism Bill

INIREF COMMENTS on committee chair Clive Betts MP Guardian article “What does this government really mean by localism?”

The Communities and Local Government (CLG) Committee report supports an elitist and corporate bias against participative democracy. At the web site of the Select Committee we find today

“At present too many people feel ignored when key decisions are taken about local services and priorities. Local councillors will need to work harder to improve accountability to local people, but the Government should not be seeking to dictate methods of local accountability from the centre. Tools like local referendums are too blunt to enable communities to express nuanced views on complex issues”.”

Given widespread public disaffection with politicians and miserable local election turnout in recent decades much has been invested to research and analyse how best to increase involvement of citizens in local and central public affairs. The results suggest that not only do people feel that they are poorly represented but also that they have little chance to influence public affairs, save by voting for a candidate once every few years. Guessing what a political party or politically mixed group will do over a long period is a task which most book-keepers would shy away from. Evaluation of democratic systems suggests that the “state of the art” which can enable responsible citizen participation while preserving and enhancing good governance is a combination of indirect (representative) democracy, which we already have, with elements of direct democracy such as the electors’ proposition (e.g. law or policy proposal) and the veto-referendum.

So, the Localism Bill’s proposals concerning the right to trigger a local referendum on any matter of local government are to be welcomed, indeed, surveys have shown that over seven out of ten British adults support this type of reform.

According to an anthropologist recently interviewed on BBC radio, a frequent response of the average English person on learning of “yet another” apparently unaccountable decision of her political representatives is to shake the head and groan, “typical”. Sadly, we have observed a barrage of typical anti-democratic criticism and complaints about the Localism Bill’s democracy proposals, from groups seeking to protect their perceived own interests such as associations of local councils e.g. New Local Government Network NLGN (explicitly opposed to more participative democracy), large building companies, a conventional energy concern. Some offer “compromise” by proposing amendments which would make direct democracy unuseable. Others reject the referendum proposals, denying the electorates the intelligence to understand local affairs or fantasising that widespread abuse of the referendum will occur. (See added example, quoted in the Select Committee report *)

The Committee gleefully cites a batallion of democracy critics, while excluding, so it seems, evidence submitted to and published by the HoC Public Bills Committee which favours and may indicate ways to strengthen the Localism Bill’s democracy proposals. One such piece of undesired evidence, a Memorandum, has apparently been tilled from the list — see Memo L40, Written evidence to be reported to the House

*Added example “Cllr Ben Adams of Staffordshire County Council commented, “For me, the referendum is the problem. You elect somebody for four years to make decisions and then can potentially second-guess them every month with a 5% referendum.””


I&R ~ GB Citizens’ Initiative and Referendum

Campaign for direct democracy in Britain


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