Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Doubting direct democracy

As part of the post election analysis, a number of senior Labour figures have commented in the papers. Hazel Blears is one such Cabinet Minister, coming up with some ideas for getting back on track in last weekends papers.

She preaches the mantra of direct democracy and ideas related to it like holding cabinet meetings in community centres and talking to the people. Such a series of ideas are silly since for one they aren’t genuinely meant.

I’m rather sceptical about direct democracy. I can understand the arguments in favour of mayors, but I disagree that having elected police commissioners will be of significant benefit to the community. Yes, it’ll mean that the winner of the election can be held to account against their promises, but unless there is full turnout, or at least a majority turnout, the commissioner will be selected by a very small number of people. Furthermore, the police commissioner will be spending more time doing public relations rather than dealing with crime. The police already get involved with communities, for example in nearby Salmestone Ward through PACT. Surely the point of a police force is to police communities, rather than constantly having to explain itself. As long as the selection procedure is rigorous, what is the point of a directly elected police commissioner? There is also the risk of having too many elections for too many things.

Hazel Blears talks about the use of petitions and how action can be in effect forced upon local authorities and even Parliament if enough signatures are received. The idea could have some going for it but on the other hand it could lead to some atrocious legislation coming before Parliament. I don’t agree with a recall mechanism for MPs, as proposed by Blears where for example if say 20% of the electorate agree, an MP can be forced to be re-elected, a situation which would mean highly marginal seats would be in constant election time.

Holding cabinet meetings outside of Downing Street is a non-starter and will never see the light of day. I’m certain the idea has already been dismissed by Gordon Brown. It would be a security nightmare and the public should have nothing to do with it. It’s an impossible gesture.

As for greater openness with the public and listening to what the public have to say, I don’t trust them for a second. They’ve been in Government for 11 years and they didn’t need to talk to the public to realise that abolishing the 10p band was a seriously bad idea. If power gets passed down, it gets passed down with conditions and restrictions upon the use of such powers, under the pretence of ensuring that abuse of such powers do not occur. Passing down power very often doesn’t actually happen.

I don’t think the problem is one of not listening, as the Government has had a ream of inquiries, white papers, consultations, the Big Conversation, green papers, Commissions etc while in office. Their problem is one of competent action. They talk so much about radical action to deal with serious problems, but the implementation is often so shoddy, it spoils the point of taking action in the first place.

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