Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Getting rid of regional government. Lucky old England!

Let me pre-empt anticipated criticism (hello Fair Deal) and acknowledge that I am not amongst the most convincing or consistent advocates of ‘localism’. I have instinctive distaste for anything that smacks of the parish pump; I am quick to condemn parties that are excessively preoccupied with local issues to the exclusion of national questions; I am dismissive of ‘unionists’ who show scant regard for the retained sovereign power of parliament; hell, I even hate most regional variations on TV.

Not that any of these predilections, of course, are inconsistent with a belief that nourishing the grass roots of democracy is to the ultimate benefit of our kingdom. I have therefore read Conservative proposals to revamp local government and decentralise powers from Westminster and Whitehall with interest and without prejudice. The difference between David Cameron’s plans to devolve power and haphazard constitutional vandalism inflicted by Labour is that the former will seek to organically cultivate and empower local institutions, whilst the latter imposed wholly inorganic, asymmetrical, poorly defined devolved assemblies which led to fundamental imbalances in government.

Apart from encouraging local councils to assume more responsibility, and striving to make those institutions more accountable to local people, the Conservative plans also seek to remove a layer of regional government in England. Although Gordon Brown has already indicated that he will remove unpopular, unelected English regional assemblies from 2010, Tory proposals would return their powers to local government, rather than to Regional Development Agencies.

In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, there will be those casting a rueful eye towards England, believing that the Conservative model could be applied more widely. Alas we are stuck with our regional government for the time being.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good Idea

Reduce the assembly to 26 members one for each council area, and leave the councils as they are with some more powers but with the local assembly member as an elected mayor.

No wasteful assembly full of sectarain politics and reasonably lowly paid councillors operating on local requirements.

fair_deal said...

Two points (one minor/one major)

1."whilst the latter imposed wholly inorganic" - The work of the Scottish Constitutional Convention did make the Scottish parliament a more organic process neither was it imposed with a referendum passed by a 3 to 1 margin. There was a similar but different process in NI. Devolution did enjoy widespread support with only SF opposed to an Assembly.

Although in Wales it was a different story were it was loyalty to the Labour party eeked out the narrow referendum win.

2. These proposals do nothing to address the "haphazard constitutional vandalism inflicted by Labour".

Chekov said...

UK wide support was not sought for any regional assembly. Therefore devolution was imposed upon the United Kingdom.

fair_deal said...

"UK wide support was not sought for any regional assembly. Therefore devolution was imposed upon the United Kingdom."

So it being in the Labour manifesto of 1997 on which they were elected and formed the UK government or the necessary legislation being passed by the sovereign power of parliament don't count?

Chekov said...

Fundamental changes in the constitution were instigated on the back of a broad manifesto for government. That is hardly the same as seeking support in UK wide referenda. That should have been a minimum requirement for changes which effected the whole constitution,.

Chekov said...

*constitution for the whole of the UK.

fair_deal said...

"Fundamental changes in the constitution were instigated on the back of a broad manifesto for government.That is hardly the same as seeking support in UK wide referenda."

However, it wasn't just a manifesto, it was passed by the national parliament acting under its sovereign authority.

Would you accept referenda have not been a particular feature of the british constitutional tradition relying instead on the sovereignty of parliament?

I'd missed this report (HT O'neill)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/4630299/Tories-will-ban-Scots-MPs-voting-on-England-only-law.html
Is this to go to UK wide referendum? How does another form of assymmetry solve the problems of assymmetry? Are you happy that the new UUP Con MPs you hope to see elected will be downgraded?

The Conservatives (as have the other Parties) have accepted the principle that a constituent part of the UK can leave if a majority in that constituent part wish to do so. Are you rejected that position? Are you rejecting the localised form of the principle of consent? Would Scottish independence be subject to a UK wide vote?

Chekov said...

“Would you accept referenda have not been a particular feature of the British constitutional tradition relying instead on the sovereignty of parliament?”

Naturally I would accept that. And parliament is entitled to make laws. However in the context of this debate you took issue with my use of the word ‘imposed’ and invoked referenda. I stand by the word imposed, because the referenda were not nationwide, yet the constitutional repercussions have been felt nationwide.

“I'd missed this report (HT O'neill)
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/conservative/4630299/Tories-will-ban-Scots-MPs-voting-on-England-only-law.html
Is this to go to UK wide referendum? How does another form of assymmetry solve the problems of assymmetry? Are you happy that the new UUP Con MPs you hope to see elected will be downgraded?”

As it happens I’m not particularly enamoured with this plan. It does however at least attempt to address a discrepancy without instigating sweeping constitutional changes.
“All MPs would be allowed to vote on England-only laws at their first and second readings in the Commons under the plan, drawn up by Ken Clarke, the former chancellor who is now Shadow Business Secretary.”
And actually, reading back over what I posted last, it does read like I think all constitutional law should be subject to referenda. That is certainly not what I meant to imply and it is a result of bashing out comments in between pieces of work. My remarks were in the context of there being regional referenda and the law having much wider ramifications.

“The Conservatives (as have the other Parties) have accepted the principle that a constituent part of the UK can leave if a majority in that constituent part wish to do so. Are you rejected that position? Are you rejecting the localised form of the principle of consent? Would Scottish independence be subject to a UK wide vote?”

Once again, I am not stating that there should be any legal imperative for further referenda, but the UK parliament would certainly need to endorse any local decisions. If something of that moment were ever to occur there would be a weighty moral case to turn to the whole country by some means, whether it be by referendum or a General Election.

kensei said...

UK wide support was not sought for any regional assembly. Therefore devolution was imposed upon the United Kingdom..

A successful vote in Scotland for devolution blocked by England would have caused a constitutional crisis and almost certainly shattered the Union completely. In my opinion it would be fair grounds for revolution. You are literally insane if you think England can impose on Scotland in such a fashion.

Anyway, as we all hate devolved government so much, we should just send the power up the line and to Europe and devolve down under similar proposals to Cameron across Europe, right?

fair_deal said...

Chekov

"As it happens I’m not particularly enamoured with this plan. It does however at least attempt to address a discrepancy without instigating sweeping constitutional changes."

It shoots but does not score.

"And actually, reading back over what I posted last, it does read like I think all constitutional law should be subject to referenda. That is certainly not what I meant to imply and it is a result of bashing out comments in between pieces of work."

Fair enough.

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