Real Democracy

Mark Barrett marknbarrett at
Fri Apr 16 11:09:09 BST 2010

    *Mr Cameron, how dare you co-opt a narrative linked to centuries of
revolutionary sacrifice, struggle and elite betrayal?*

Like the electorate, I am angry with politicians and would like to see
ordinary people taking control. But this can’t happen through state and
market solutions, because these institutions are created BY civil society,
not the other way round. To develop a ‘big society’ and turn the country
around government must let people create their own state, and marketplace,
on their own democratic terms.

Wealthy career politicians are famously detached from real life, but at
street level libertarian politics are done each and every day, in liberated
space; on the bus, via community land trusts, squatted social centres, on-line social media in the average family home or other,
egalitarian grassroots enterprise. A completely different kind of society
can be built around these models, but what’s needed is an inclusive,
constitutionally-literate grassroots recovery plan, and I see nothing in the
mainstream agenda to take us there.

First, Parliament must sanction by law a new constitutional settlement,
based on the carving out of autonomous spaces for ‘Governing Assemblies’ in
every neighbourhood. These spaces would take the form of neighbourhood
buildings, henceforth to be community owned in perpetuity free of
taxation but with general upkeep, heating and lighting costs to be borne by
the state.

Second, GAs require participatory budgets sourced from general
taxation and to be spent according to the new constitutional rule-book. This
says that GA processes must always be based on radical equality through
real, democratic decision-making. Meetings must be widely advertised, open
and transparent and must always use horizontal decision-making to seek full

Without this, decisions cannot go ahead and this must be enforceable in a
court of law.

Third, Parliament must accept the constitutional right of each GA to create
its own market, by granting licences in the area and thereby its own
revenue. GAs could, for example chose to licence or own a local street
market, or charge for parking in the area, and thereby derive income. GAs
can then choose through due process what local services to provide. The
local area would be defined around commonsense neighbourhood/shared amenity
boundaries, in contrast to the gerrymandered boundaries drawn by
electorally-minded politicians.

Fourth, GAs would be empowered to disburse benefits, as decentralised job
centres.  In exchange for providing goods and services, or work as an
apprentice, for hours proportionate to benefits received, GAs will ensure
claimants get to chose work in collaboration with a community of their
choice. Unemployed people would thereby freely contribute to a new,
flourishing local culture while also helping themselves; perhaps by starting
setting up a new business, or helping run the neighbourhood crèche, or
planting fruit trees along the local street, or putting a colourful mural on
a concrete wall. This reform would spell an end to economic inactivity for
claimants, building self reliance through community support, but without
coercion. Communities would compete with each other for labour, by offering
different opportunities and a positive cultural outlook. Currently, 150
billion pounds are spent annually on social security.

Fifth, GAs should have a democratic banking function. Mega-banks should be
nationalised and decentralised, and the inflationary monetary system
reformed Monies can then be passed
from the central bank to GAs to be lent direct to local green businesses to
help produce the new, decentralised culture.

Sixth, local schools must be reformed to connect with the wider community,
and to embrace community learning. Older residents (retirees for example)
will happily offer vocational training and mentoring skills, while the
process of working out future care for our elders can be developed by the
community. A trade learned with the support of the community can provide
economic security and a sense of self worth for life.

Seventh, the tax system must be reformed, to reduce the deficit and help pay
for the new political economy. Increasing land values are created by the
whole community and therefore should not be privatised, as many eminent
politicians and economists (from Ricardo to Churchill) have noted. Phasing
in Land Value Tax (LVT) would mean big land owners
must start paying rent as tax to the state, which would bring down land
prices, ensure land was used or sold but not hoarded and finally end
boom-bust property speculation. According to the Law of Rent, it may also mean an eventual rise
in wages, as increasing wealth could no longer be put into property. LVT
could be phased in to help bring down the deficit, while income and sales
tax (on low carbon items) could be reduced to zero. As Phillipe Legrain
argues in this months Prospect and the FT, a land tax is the only fair way
to bring Britain’s finances back into line.,
if the Tories were truly reformed, Mr Cameron could show this by
on the land-owners.

Desperate politicians facing an election like talking about giving power
away, and this week  David Cameron asked us to join the Government of
Britain, but I doubt the public will buy it. Those who officially work for
the Government of Britain are paid to do so and get to exercise
real executive power. Is Mr Cameron proposing to pay us Parliamentary
expenses and banker-style bonuses to play our part? Or offer us real,
constitutionally guaranteed political power? ‘Fine words butter no parsnips’
as the saying goes.

Mark Barrett is a community campaigner based in North London.

0785 439 0408
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