Thinking For The Individual

Formerly known as 'Thinking For The People', this site offers some reflections on the state of British society and her people from the perspective of a libertarian Conservative with a passionate belief in the pillars of freedom and responsibility.

Friday, June 10, 2005

A Vision For True Democracy

Some of the brightest younger Conservative MPs and activists have written a new book called 'Direct Democracy', which is a critique of some of our society's biggest problems, and the remedies they feel are needed. You can find out much more about all of this here.

So whilst Conservatives are beginning to embrace a full programme for a radical future government, I today proclaim my own vision for true local democracy.


Parish Committees
Every neighbourhood, consisting of around 200 households, would elect a very small number of non-party councillors. One of these would be appointed to be Chairman of the Committee. The committee would then exist as a generally informal forum but with some fund-raising and decision-making powers. Each committee would receive £2,500 per year from local taxation or subsidies (it is, of course, preferable for local taxation to be collected, as this would bring a truer sense of local identity). This money would be spent on their local area, creating a kind of city village.
The committee would meet frequently and its discussions would be held for public viewing. On matters of expenditure, the committee may propose investment ideas, and it would be the duty of the larger populace to vote on such matters. This would bring an almost classical direct democracy to local people.
These neighbourhood committees would have various local responsibilities, including the upkeep of parks and recreation, the state of the local environment and maintenance of public buildings. They would also have a large role in planning. Neighbourhood committees may also have a role in welfare provision. Placing welfare at such a local level would boost the idea of mutual support at work.
Members of the committee would be elected every four years, at the same time as council and national elections. Different committees would have different numbers of councillors. Most councillors would be elected to represent the entire parish. Only if there are more candidates standing for election than there are seats on the council would an election be held.
Each parish would create its own charter, directly establishing its status and its powers. Parish committees would exist much in the same manner as parish councils presently do. Every square inch of British soil would be divided up into parishes, so that these committees would be open to all, regardless of their historic status.

General Councils
General councils would serve as the next tier of local government, above parish committees. A number of parish committees shall be ‘merged’, from which a non-party councillor would be elected. One councillor is appointed Chairman of the Council, and takes the term ‘Mayor’. The Mayor appoints a small executive to discuss local issues, and to show leadership, like a Cabinet. The general council would received income through a universal local sales tax, and should be far less dependent on state finance.
These councils would be responsible directly for local environment matters such as refuse collective and environmental health, and many matters which are too large for parish committees but too trivial for national government. These councils primarily provide local leadership.
One important role for the general council is the maintenance of its very own community hall, which would serve the people in many important ways. The community hall would contain premises for community and not-for-profit organisations and shared support facilities for such groups; location for job centres, including national electronic search facilities; public access to other key databases, such as housing vacancy lists; free-to-use meetings space for community groups; location for local councillors’ drop-in clinics; public display of all planning notices, etc.; exhibition space; small police stations; food and drink and other retail concessions, leased to the private sector. These community halls must be elaborate and ornate buildings, in order to foster a greater sense of local pride.

Public Service Commissioners
I have already written on this site of the need for Transport Commissioners, to take control of local matters in that field. In addition to this, Commissioners would be elected to cover other areas of policy. The most obvious case would be policing, with Commissioners elected to serve the public in that field. However, a Commissioner may be elected to serve as the guarantor of 'public services' within a local area. As I am an advocate of school vouchers and true independence for all schools, that may make Educational Commissioners unnecessary. But as proponents of school vouchers argue that light touch regulation is needed to ensure all children have access to a school, perhaps this could be done at a local level. Educational Commissioners might also serve as a powerful mechanism for the redress of grievances if parents are very unhappy at the policies and practices of schools.
Commissioners would set the priorities in their field and direct expenditure around their own service. The role of national government would be to act as guarantor of the service and keep an overall check on the national picture. If locals are dissatisfied with the performance of their Commissioners, they would have the right to demand the resignation of the Board in a recall election. Elections would be held regularly and the Commissioners would be clearly accountable to people.

In short, this means true local democracy of a style never before dreamt of in our modern world.

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