“Democracy Made in England – Where next for English Local Government?”

In less frenetic times, this report would have grabbed headlines – but attention has already been cornered by outrageous events in Ukraine. Those distractions are, no doubt, mightily convenient for the current cabal who pretend to power in Whitehall.

The report should be required reading for all Liberal Democrat candidates for local Elections next May. There is only one name on the report’s cover – lead author, Michela Palese, Research and Policy Officer, Electoral Reform Society. At first glance you will see this is not the outpourings of some single tortured soul, but the collective views garnered from a cast of hundreds drawn from across the political spectrum.

There is no doubt that this report is timely as Gove’s Levelling Up White Paper wends its way around Westminster – not only failing to tackle underlying democratic deficiencies but making them worse. The hearing-impaired government of the most over-centralised state in Europe cannot even attend to the pleas of those who voted for them.

Michela’s report has two broad thrusts – the need for a resettlement of local citizen engagement and the now urgent need for voting reform with proportional representation. For both, the focus is squarely on the most locally abused – the citizenry of England.

As we saw during the pandemic, it is our local councils that are on the front line of so many of the issues that face our communities – yet, as we’ve found, too often our local representatives find themselves powerless in the face of Westminster’s centralising control.

My own selected highlight of this report on page 58 (of 110) where Table 3 shows contrasting representative ratios. Focus please on the column headed ‘Persons per Councillor’ – a range from 220 (Sweden) to 3,300 (England).

There is no substitute for reading this report and arming yourself with the essential reasoning for Proportional Representation and greater municipal autonomy.

* David Brunnen is media liaison officer for Fareham Liberal Democrats. He writes on Municipal Autonomy, Intelligent Communities, Sustainability & Digital Challenges.

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10 Comments

  • Brad Barrows 14th Mar '22 - 12:32pm

    “…the people of England should have the right to decide on how they wish to be governed”
    One of the most important statements in the document and one that should lead to the Liberal Democrats championing a demand for a referendum in England on whether they wish England to have a devolved Parliament with similar responsibilities to the parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or whether they wish to continue the current arrangement where English legislation is decided by the UK Parliament with 117 MPs representing non-English constituencies having an equal say in English legislation as MPs who represent English constituencies.

  • Mick Taylor 14th Mar '22 - 3:33pm

    @Brad Barrows: ABSOLUTELY NOT. The last thing we want is an English Parliament. Liberals have debated this issue countless times before, each time rejecting an English Parliament in favour of Regional Parliaments. Yorkshire, for example, has the same population and GDP as Scotland and is perfectly capable of running its own affairs.. An English Parliament would totally unbalance the UK, just as the current UK parliament does. We also don’t need a referendum. The UK parliament is supreme and a party elected on a manifesto to introduce a federal UK should just introduce a bill and get it established. Of course, we’d also like a written constitution, but that would involve making all governance in the UK subject to the constitution with a clear but not easy path to amendments. The Lib Dems and its predecessor party the Liberals have had this policy since 1967 and indeed the Liberal Government prior to WW1 in introducing a home rule bill for Ireland, foreshadowed its intention of further devolution of power to the nations and regions of the UK.
    Let’s go out and campaign for what we want and introduce it when we win or in coalition as necessary.

  • Brad Barrows 14th Mar '22 - 6:27pm

    @Mick Taylor
    So, unless you believe that each English region should have its own legal system and make its own laws, I assume your position is that it is acceptable for English law to be made by the UK parliament containing 117 MPs representing parts of the UK with their own legislatures to make their own laws…. Liberal Undemocratic Party, or what!

  • Thank you for both your enlightening comments.

    The thing is that this is the so-called “United Kingdom” in which we (the component parts) are constantly being told that we are all equal components (anyone for the “awesome foursome”?) and that we are better off together.
    My history book tells me that Scotland and England joined as equal partners.
    How come, because Yorkshire might be able to go it alone, does this lead to the demoting of Scotland as an EQUAL partner to England but rather to the position of a similar status to a region of England?
    Is Alaska the same size as California? They manage a federal system despite the disparity in population. Is Luxembourg the same size as Germany? They manage a semi(not quite) confederal system within the European Union.
    The question is: Is the county of Yorkshire part of the Kingdom of England, the latter of which joined with the Kingdom of Scotland as EQUAL PARTNERS?
    I’m happy to remain part of the UK but if we are not equal partners, I will vote for those who wish to depart. It’s in the contract.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Mar '22 - 7:21am

    @BradBarrows. If you had read our policy, you would know that we have not proposed a separate judicial system for either England or Wales. In those few cases where legislation (not laws as you mean them) just for England is required, then representatives from the English regions would make them collectively. The judicial system would remain part of the UK parliament’s responsibility.

  • Brad Barrows 15th Mar '22 - 5:59pm

    @Mick Taylor
    You are of course correct that the Liberal Democrats have not proposed a separate judicial system for England or Wales but you will also be aware that The Commission on Justice in Wales made that recommendation in 2019 and I suspect that is the direction of travel.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Mar '22 - 2:08pm

    As long as leading national politicians believe in top down government it’s going to be an uphill battle to allow local government to govern. We need a comprehensive deal between the people and elected representatives that includes PR and entrenched powers for local government. Whether this comes piecemeal or in one constitutional settlement will depend on various factors.

  • Malcolm Todd 16th Mar '22 - 3:31pm

    Chris 14th Mar ’22 – 9:40pm
    “My history book tells me that Scotland and England joined as equal partners.”

    What history book is that? Scotland and England have never been “equal partners”. It doesn’t mean that individual people in Scotland have fewer rights than those in England. But why on earth would it be acceptable for one set of 5 million to have a veto over 55 million? That’s not equality.
    I don’t understand what you think equality should mean in the context of this alleged “equal partnership”, whether of the “two nations” that formed the Union (I guess Wales doesn’t count?) or of the four nations (one of which isn’t a nation in anyone’s book) that make up the UK today. I suspect, whenever I see this argument, that it’s just a form of trolling: that it’s a faux-reasonable compromise put forward by ScotNats in the full knowledge that it will be, has to be, rejected, thereby providing a pretend-reluctant settling for independence after all. But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps you actually have something workable in mind. If so, would you mind spelling it out?

  • David Brunnen 17th Mar '22 - 9:09am

    Thanks (Peter Hirst) for your ‘uphill battle’ comment. In current local election campaign a frequently quoted response is, “if voting made any difference they wouldn’t allow it”.
    My answer is that they DON’T allow it – the voting system we have is flawed and those in power like to keep it that way. But voting is the only way we have to show dissatisfaction.
    Greater municipal autonomy is an even thornier issue and short of paying politicians to go study other constitutional example (like Sweden) I doubt I’ll see any change in my lifetime. But uphill battling is what keeps us going! We must campaign for PR with the same vigour as Ukrainians fight for their existence.

  • Philip Pughe-Morgan 19th Mar '22 - 1:49pm

    One of the problems of our British Union (the UK) is that England is so very large in terms of landmass and population. Considering the pros and cons of a devolved government in England, there is a curious comparison here with the Soviet Union, which I’ve only realised recently.

    While the other union republics had their own devolved governments, Russia as the largest and main republic did not, and the Russian Soviet Republic was run by the overall government of the Soviet Union. One of the main reasons for the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union was the bust-up between Gorbachev, who wanted the retain it with certain limited reforms, and Yeltsin, who wanted to go much further and abandoned communism altogether, while heading the newly-formed government of a Russian republic.

    The Soviet federal system couldn’t contain the counter-mass of Russia with all its economic and political power, so rolled over and died, as the other republics one by one decided to secede from the union and become totally independent.

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