Thursday, October 26, 2006

Local dictatorships are not the solution to local democracy?

There is much fanfare being made today about the Government proposals for local government. Read the news and you might start thinking that this represented a massive change in the relationship between Whitehall and Local Government.

Using phrases like "double devolution" sounds very snazzy, but they mask the disconcerting part of the proposal. The Government make it sound like they're repatriating power to the local people, but the reality is they're trying to consolidate power to smaller and less accountable political elites.

Take for example the desire for directly-elected mayors. The argument the Government put forward is that this creates a directly accountable link to local people. However what it really creates is an effective local dictatorship. Lewisham is a case in point.

In Lewisham they have a Labour directly-elected mayor who has a casting vote in a Council where even with his vote Labour have no overall majority. Lewisham is an effective dictatorship as a result. What Steve Bullock wants, Steve Bullock gets, the fact that the majority of local people might be against simply doesn't matter. Directly-elected mayors make a mockery of the democratic process, they do not enhance it.


Anonymous said...

There can be problems with the Mayoral system but maybe the answer is to create the necessary checks to control the elected executives power.

Anonymous said...

I don't know a lot about the Mayoral system, but at first glance introducing it in my neck of the woods would appear to be a good idea. I live in a Labour council, and the current system means that only the voters in one ward can get rid of the council leader. With a Mayoral system everyone can vote to keep or remove the head of the council. Surely thats better accountability. And with a Mayor with a cabinet of councilors surely there would be enough checks and balances?

Anonymous said...


You obviously don't live in London. Livingstone is going to be mayor for as long as he wants - the coalition of Muslims and non-council tax payers (and an absence of any serious politicians prepared to oppose him) will see to that. (Unwelcome though my agreement might be) I'm with DT on this one: democracy is not counting votes once every so often and handing over all power to the person who receives most of them to do whatever he wants: the whole point of a democracy is that the winner of an election takes some notice of the views of those who voted against him.

Coming back to Livingstone: in February next year the congestion charge zone will be extended westward to cover largely residential areas which, oh dear, have Conservative councils. There was a "consultation" (which revealed that the vast majority of the residents did not want the extension). Livingstone ignored the results of the consultation saying that [my paraphrasing] "it was a consultation not a referendum". In my experience congestion is far worse to the east of London than the west but we wouldn't want to upset our supporters would we?

Anonymous said...

I've been lucky enough not to have to go to any Lewisham council meetings since May this year, but I think you've misunderstood the constitutional arrangements in the borough.

In Council the Mayor has a single vote as do all the councillors. Steve does not have the casting vote, that is (Conservative) Councillor Barrie Anderson's role as Chair of Council.

Steve's power is in the Mayor and Cabinet committees where as Mayor he makes decisions (which must be in line with the policy framework set out by the full council).

What is true is that as long as he the decisions Steve takes are in line with the policy of the council the council can't overturn individual decisions they believe are misguided.

But that's hardly an "effective dictatorship".