Parliament committee snubs democracy in Localism Bill

mm at mm at
Thu Jun 9 17:53:00 BST 2011

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

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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