It’s time to fix our democracy, before it’s too late

Sorry, folks, but is anyone else getting pretty fed up with People’s Votes, Brexit and Leadership Hustings in LDV? Of course these things are important; but there really IS more to life! Even if all that gets sorted out in the next few months/years (fat chance of that, most of you will probably say) we are still left with a democracy which, while currently in A & E, might soon be heading for intensive care unless we wake up. I know that this kind of esoteric musing appeals to the political anorak rather than a hardworking citizen trying to keep their head above water; but, rather than just trying to patch up that old banger, why not think of buying into a brand new (preferably electric) model?

This wonderful democracy of ours, or what claims to be a democracy, isn’t fit for purpose and apparently over 70% of citizens surveyed recently agree. However, it is partly the refusal of many of them to countenance major reform and their reluctance actually to take part in what we have now through the ballot box, which allows politicians to get away with it. In my opinion, many of the current difficulties in which we find ourselves – and especially Brexit – can be laid at the door of a political system that still has a whiff of the 18th century or even earlier about it. It needs fixing and this is what I would do. I reckon that I’ve been here before; but I believe it’s worth repeating just to see if anyone is interested or has a even better idea.

I would start by creating a Federal United Kingdom, similar to Germany, Canada and Australia. First I would replace all remaining two tier local authorities in England with Unitary Authorities(UAs), whilst retaining Town, Parish and neighbourhood councils as has already happened in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Then, in England, I would devolve real fiscal power away from Westminster to six regional assemblies, whose members could be nominated or elected from the UAs in their area. All elections in local and regional government would be conducted under some form of Proportional Representation(PR).

Then I would create a Federal Parliament in London, directly elected by PR by all the eligible voters of the UK and with similar responsibilities (defence, foreign affairs, environmental protection etc) as the Parliaments In Ottawa, Canberra and Berlin. As a revising chamber I would turn the House of Lords into a Senate, whose members could be nominated rather than elected by the English Regions and the Parliament in Scotland, the Senate in Wales and the Assembly in Northern Ireland.

Finally, I would make voting compulsory in all elections, with each ballot paper having a box at the bottom marked “None of the above”. Sorry if that might seem somewhat draconian to liberals. I would go even further by limiting the availability of postal votes to those who could not physically get to the Polling Station either because of infirmity or holiday. I gather there have been some questions about the number of postal votes in the recent Peterborough By Election, which might have overly influenced the result and whose possible manipulation might have actually handed Labour its victory.

* John Marriott is a former Liberal Democrat councillor from Lincolnshire.

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45 Comments

  • William Fowler 18th Jun '19 - 8:57am

    That sounds wonderful for the political class who will no doubt set it up so that their numbers double or triple and remove themselves from any kind of reality by paying themselves three, four, five times the average national wage and complete the game by doubling their salary with tax free expenses (to remove them even further from reality by avoiding tax). Hmmm…

    Yes reform is needed to give power back to the people not expand the political class, we already have an excess of laws that aren’t properly policed, bringing serious transgressions into disrepute.

    BTW, it may be okay to make everyone vote but not when the electoral register – a database that is readily searchable by dodgy finance companies even if you tick the non-public box – contains DOB, NI number, full name and address (one of Mrs May’s ill-thought out policies) and has resulted in a massive increase in ID theft. If people are going to be forced to vote then bring forth electronic voting on computer/smart phone (pretty secure as the govn cross-checks multiple databases before letting you use their services, though again you may not realise this unless something goes wrong) and then on to electronic referendum as per the Swiss model, which done properly would remove whole layers of the political class. Sounds Liberal to me, anyway.

  • Kevin Hawkins 18th Jun '19 - 8:59am

    I agree with much of what you said. However, I am uneasy with the idea of compulsory voting – you can imagine the headlines in the tabloid press “tearful granny dragged into court to face charge of not voting”. A much simpler way of achieving the same objective would be to reward people to vote. Simply pay everyone (say) £10 a time for voting (either directly or as a tax rebate). I believe the vast majority of people would then vote. If you think that would be expensive I would disagree – it would at worst be revenue neutral. What the government takes with one hand it would be giving back with the other. At best it might even be slightly revenue positive as there would still be a small number of people who for various reasons (ideological, religious, or forgetfulness) would still not vote. I don’t have a problem with taxing non-voters. What could they do about it?

  • Mick Taylor 18th Jun '19 - 9:17am

    I agree with Andrew Hickey on PR. It must be STV. Only STV puts voters in control rather than parties.
    Compulsory voting? Well, people talk lots about rights, but very little about responsibilities. Surely it’s not too much to ask of people to take part in democracy once a year or so? After all, John Marriott is suggesting that anyone can abstain but has to do it on a ballot paper. It’s been compulsory to vote in Australia for years and it works well enough there.

  • John Marriott 18th Jun '19 - 9:59am

    It’s interesting how Andrew and Mick go immediately for voting. What I’m more interested is in what my article is about, namely the bigger picture of how we make a democracy work for the people (demos?). Equally it’s about how you get the people to work for a democracy.

    STV is probably the purest form of PR. Mind you, if you want to be pedantic, the late Lord Jenkins’ proposal, which the Blair government kicked into the long grass, would, I believe, preserve the blessed link between and MP and their constituency. In Germany half the Bundestag is directly elected and half by D’Hondt from regional party lists, where a party has to get at least 5% of the popular vote to get any representation. To be honest, while not wishing to make myself a hostage to fortune, I would go so far as to say that any type of PR is better than what we currently have – even AV, which, of course, isn’t proportional and which failed to carry all before it at the start of the coalition.

    But what about a FEDERAL UK?

    On the question of compulsory voting, which, I believe, is also the case in Belgium, what if we had had it for the 2016 Referendum. Then the ‘will of the people’ might have been clearer. Instead, what we got was the will of about 38% of the people triumphing over around 35% of the people. What about the rest?

    As regards ‘punishment’ for not voting, how about a small fine? As for making it easier to vote, why not switch voting to Sundays or even looking at ways of voting on line, as long as it was 99.99% safe from manipulation?

  • Michael Cole 18th Jun '19 - 10:05am

    I agree with much of what Jon Marriott writes. But the priority must be reform of the electoral system for local (it already works well in Scotland) and Westminster elections.

    Why is this Party no longer actively campaigning for it ?

    As has been stated by others above, STV is the most democratic option.

    FPTP voting inevitably comes down to a choice between the lesser of two evils.

  • Michael Cole 18th Jun '19 - 10:07am

    Typo – s/b John not Jon.

  • Peter Rothery 18th Jun '19 - 10:37am

    Our democracy isn’t broken. It’s still functioning, even in the most difficult political crisis we’ve faced in decades. However it can be improved.

    We have to ensure that the perfect does not become the enemy of the good when it comes to renewing our democracy.

    For me there are two key points which i think might be popular.

    (1) Any electoral reform needs to enable voters to chose not just between parties but between candidates of the same party. That could be good old STV; but a system of open primaries might gain broader support.

    (2) We have too many parliamentarians at Westminster. India has 545 Representatives for a population of 1,369 million; USA has 435 reprentatives for 329 million people; UK has 650 MPs for 67 million. That’s even before we get to the Lords.

    We should propose cutting the number of MPs and slashing the number of Peers. But that would mean cutting the number of ministers too. We should prevent Ministers being appointed from of the HoL, and reduce the payroll cote in the Commons.

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Jun '19 - 10:39am

    @William Fowler
    “Yes reform is needed to give power back to the people”

    An aim best fulfilled in a parliamentary democracy by STV since it enables voters to place individual candidates in order of preference, irrespective of party. All the parties do is to provide their lists of candidates. Nothing to stop a voter from giving 1st pref to a LibDem candidate and 2nd pref to an indiependent or a candidate from a different party etc.

    The only thing STV does not do, along with most other forms of PR, is preserve a link between an elected MP and an individual constituency.

    But I hadn’t noticed that link serves the large number of voters who under FPTP never have a chance of electing someone remotely in tune with their views particularly well.

    It serves those in the conservative and labour parties who are more interested in preserving their own power than in the well-being of the people at large very well.

  • Yes there is more to politics than Brexit and the Tory leadership pantomime. There is indeed more to life than politics. Perfectly reasonable sentiments – except in the hands of the politicians pretending not to be politicians currently dominating the airwaves. The likes of the MP for Uxbridge portray them selves as having a much wider background that they see as connecting with real people. Hence all the nonsense about families and fridges. They cheerfully see themselves as the answer to “broken politics” while crossing the line beyond serious representative democracy. Our politics does indeed need fixing, not replacing with cheap, plastic alternatives. Instead of the high ego individualists who try to convince us they are human, we need political structures more suited to the needs of humanity as it is now.

  • Daniel Walker 18th Jun '19 - 11:09am

    @Nonconformistradical “The only thing STV does not do, along with most other forms of PR, is preserve a link between an elected MP and an individual constituency.

    Surely one of the salient features of STV is that is does do that? Admittedly the constituencies are larger than at present, but each MP would represent one of them, just not on their own.

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Jun '19 - 11:23am

    @Daniel Walker
    The point I was trying to make, obviously not clearly, was about the existing so-called link between an MP and a single-member constituency.

    However, in a multi-member constituency with several MPs representing different parties or independent, a resident with a grievance against or problem with a government department would have some choice as to which MP to approach.

    In the present Westminster setup one cannot do that. For example, someone running a small business in a constituency with a tory MP and having grief from HMRC (not that uncommon a problem as I understand ) might feel ‘not entirely comfortable’ that the rules only allow them to approach their constituency MP to take up their case.

  • Daniel Walker 18th Jun '19 - 11:32am

    @Nonconformistradical

    Fair enough, the clarification is appreciated. I think we’re in agreement, in that case, especially with your “residents having a choice who to approach” paragraph.

  • We have to distinguish between things that are important & the stuff we should talk about, sometimes they overlap, mostly they don’t. We need a clear set of plans for Electoral Reform, ready to go if we dominate a Government in the near future but we should be talking about stuff our Voters want to hear about.

  • I enjoy reading John Marriots’s comments and the occasional article he writes on here and agree with much of what he says.

    But for the sake of transparency, shouldn’t the fact that he is not a member be made clear at the end of the article? I personally welcome articles and posts from non-members, but previous articles by non-members were always clearly signposted as such. Apologies if I’ve got the author mixed up with somebody else

  • John Marriott 18th Jun '19 - 1:30pm

    @James Pugh
    No need to apologise, James, I am indeed no longer a member of the Lib Dems, something which I have acknowledged in several posts. I hope that doesn’t make me a bad person! However, having spent over half my life (I’m nearly 76) as a member of the Liberal Party/SDP/Lib Dems as well as a councillor for thirty years I think that I’m entitled to comment on a website that prides itself on its diversity of opinion. I left the party to which, besides my representation I have contributed considerable time and money (not forgetting the numbers of trainers and boots I’ve worn out in delivering leaflets, most of which I produced for myself and colleagues over the years), over what I will describe as ‘a little local difficulty’. That’s all I am willing to divulge. I will say that I left with a mixture of sadness, frustration and anger. However, if you were to open my heart when I finally (and hopefully) go to that big Council in the sky, it wouldn’t have ‘Calais’ engraved on it, like ‘Bloody’ Queen Mary; but ‘Liberal Democracy’.

    I’m still hoping that some contributors might give a little thought to the main thrust of my article, namely, how we get representative democracy to work more effectively at local level via real devolution. For example, are six regional assemblies for England too many, too few, or about right. And, if we go down that route, where would the boundaries be?

    What about all you Lib Dem District Councillors (I was one once for 18 years, in fact, between 2001 and 2007 I was a so called ‘dual hatted’ member, as I was also serving on the County Council) and, that rare breed, you Lib Dem County Councillors? Are you so attached to your electorate, which, unlike the blue and red brigade, you probably won over by sheer hard work and tenacity that you couldn’t possibly vote to abolish yourselves?

    What about you (whisper it) Lib Dem Town and Parish councillors? How do you feel about actually being voted in instead of being co opted, especially if this vital tier of local government were to be offered more powers?

    You see, LDV contributors are often hot on the theory; but weak on the practical. Please discuss.

  • James Pugh,
    If Liberal Democrat Voice was an official party organ whether postings are authored by members might be relevant but it clearly states on the home page banner that it is an independent website. However, the impression resulting from cautious moderation may be otherwise. Will knowing whether authors are members change our response to their opinions?
    Regarding the article, I agree that a federation of regions is a desirable reform but we need more powers to be devolved back to adequately funded local authorities so that people will see them as relevant again and re-engage with them.

  • Jayne Mansfield 18th Jun '19 - 2:18pm

    @ John Marriott,
    I would like to see the introduction of the Jenkins hybrid system of voting .

    I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph.

    As someone who until a medical misfortune last year was still working as a volunteer for long stints in challenging areas abroad, I really do get miffed about this portrayal of old people, ( I am in my 70’s) as sad saps. We are as varied and unique as a bunch as any other demographic.

  • William Fowler 18th Jun '19 - 2:54pm

    How does STV solve the problem of voting for a party to get, say, Brexit revoked but then not wanting that party to implement a whole host of policies that I disagree with and have been added in to the manifesto just because they can get away with it? I would much prefer to replace the house of lords with electronic voting referendum on major issues, whatever voting system is used for MP’s and/or if we also have a federal system.

    Currently we have a system where a group of politicians can wreck the country, get voted out, have nice pensions and high paying jobs in other sectors whilst the poor old tax-payer has to pick up the cost.

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Jun '19 - 3:30pm

    @Paul Barker
    “We need a clear set of plans for Electoral Reform, ready to go if we dominate a Government in the near future but we should be talking about stuff our Voters want to hear about.”

    Electoral reform and addressing ‘stuff’ our (or many more hopefully?) voters want to talk about go hand in hand. We need electoral reform to achieve the other reforms needed. We’re not getting that message over very well.

  • @John Marriott

    Yes I completely agree with you. I always welcome contributions from people who are outside the party, and I find myself agreeing with you much of the time when you do. My only ask was that the article make it clear that you are not a Lib Dem member, as is the case when other non-members write articles. The current italicised bio, whilst accurate is misleading

  • Nonconformistradical 18th Jun '19 - 5:27pm

    @William Fowler
    “How does STV solve the problem of voting for a party to get, say, Brexit revoked but then not wanting that party to implement a whole host of policies that I disagree with…”

    “Currently we have a system where a group of politicians can wreck the country, get voted out, have nice pensions and high paying jobs in other sectors whilst the poor old tax-payer has to pick up the cost.”

    In STV you are not voting for the party – you are putting individual candidates in order of preference. So even if you wished to stick to the candidates from one party you can look at the views of that party’s individual candidates in your multi-member constituency and give higher preferences to those more in tune with your views than others. For a set of Libdem candidates it’s fairly unlikely that they’d all vote the same way on every issue. After all it has I believe been said said that organising a group of LibDems is a bit like herding cats….

    The other issue with FPTP that STV addresses is the problem of safe seats – where a party can put up anyone they want and be sure of getting them elected. That should become much more difficult under STV where it isn’t the party controlling the order of their list of candidates in a constituency – it’s the voters. So individual candidates should have to do much more campaigning in their constituency than some MPs get away with in single member FPTP constituencies.

  • Finally something we need to talk about. By giving serious power to Scotland. Wales and Northern Ireland as well as England, we can sort out this morbid parliament

  • The problem with unitary authorities is the councillor elector ratio. I would only support them if there was a maximum ratio for each council of 2000 electors to one councillor. Elected mayors and the cabinet system for councils need to be abolished. I like the idea of the “Senate” being elected by all the Unitary councillors, but the regional assemblies should be elected under the same system as the devolved assemblies.

    Why six English regions and not the nine we have currently?

    I have had a postal vote from when it became easy to have one (2001) and I think the rules have been tightened since. It appears that in the Peterborough by-election about 400 postal ballots were rejected because of issues with the date of birth and/or signature. It seems that the Electoral Commission didn’t find any increase in electoral fraud with all-postal voting. Is electoral fraud in relation to postal voting a widespread activity?

    @ William Fowler

    Having just unitary authorities should decrease the number of councillors. All councils have independent bodies which set the allowances for councillors and expenses are usually set in line with government ones and apply to councillors and officers of the council.

    The public electoral register does not have Date of Births for most people, but they can be calculated for those turning 18 during the forthcoming year, nor do they have NI numbers.

    @ Peter Rothery

    I think democracy works best when the number of electors per constituency is small, but if we have STV we have to have multi-member constituencies then constituencies will be huge compared to their size currently.

  • John Marriott 18th Jun '19 - 9:42pm

    @Michael BG
    I made my proposals fairly broad brush for a reason, namely to see whether others might be prepared to offer variations that might be even more worthy of consideration. Let me be a little more precise.

    Your comment on how the Senate might be constituted is based on an incorrect interpretation of what I proposed. It would be the English Regions and the other three ‘Parliaments and not the UAs, that would provide the Senate’s members. In Germany, for example, the provinces (Länder) send delegates to Germany’s upper house, known as the Bundesrat, which is in fact a fairly sparsely populated body. So no direct election involving the public would be needed.

    As far as the number of English Regions is concerned, my proposal is not engraved in tablets of stone. The obvious number (to me at least) would be a minimum of six : North West, North East, West Midlands, East Midlands, South West, South East. You could add to that East Anglia and Greater London to make eight. The $64,000 question (I guess I’m showing my age here) would be where to draw the boundary lines.

    As far as the size in terms of population of Unitary Authorities (UAs) is concerned, they can, in my opinion, be frankly too small, as it could be argued is the case with UAs like Hartlepool, Hull or North and North East Lincolnshire and too large as is possibly the case with Cornwall and possibly Wiltshire. Northampton is about to swop its County Council and District Councils for two UAs. A case can be made in Lincolnshire, where I live, for replacing the County and seven District Councils with three UAs to achieve populations of around 200,000.

  • John,

    I knew what I was suggesting for the Senate was not the same as what you were suggesting. Sorry, I should have made that clear. In the same way that I suggested an alternative to the way regional assemblies could be elected.

    With regard to regions, I don’t see why we couldn’t start with the existing nine. London has to be a region in its own right. Eastern England consists of more than just East Anglia. I don’t see Hertfordshire and Cambridgeshire as in the East Midlands, but I am unsure about Bedfordshire. The population of Eastern England is a little larger than the West Midlands. The North East is the smallest region with a population of 2.6 million. It seems to have a strong identity and raises the question – should it be united with Yorkshire & the Humber to make a region with a population of about 7.9 million, making it the third largest after the South East and London (2011 census figues)?

    I would think that the maximum size for unitary authorities would be 200,000 electors with exceptions for large cities. Hull has a population of about 260,000 and about 186,000 electors now having a ratio of about 3260 electors per councillor. Therefore Hull is an OK size but should have 93 councillors.

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Jun '19 - 8:27am

    @Michael BG
    “The public electoral register does not have Date of Births for most people, but they can be calculated for those turning 18 during the forthcoming year, nor do they have NI numbers.”

    From https://www.gov.uk/child-employment/paying

    “Children under 16 do not pay National Insurance”

    Which suggests to me that a 16-year-old who is working might have to have an NI number…

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Jun '19 - 8:31am

    @Michael BG
    “The problem with unitary authorities is the councillor elector ratio. I would only support them if there was a maximum ratio for each council of 2000 electors to one councillor.”

    Aren’t you putting the cart before the horse by coming up with this arbitrary ratio? Don’t we need to have a clear idea of what councillors on a unitary authority should/should not be doing before deciding how many are needed?

    Yes we have some unitary authorities in existence now but hs any research been done into their effectiveness and what might be an appropriate ratio?

  • John Marriott 19th Jun '19 - 10:35am

    @Nonconformistradical
    There is quite a bit of evidence that UAs not only are more cost effective; but also put most services ‘under one roof’ that are shared between County and District Councils. For example, Districts collect refuse and Counties dispose of it, Districts deal with planning applications and Counties deal with highways and infrastructure. Social housing is the responsibility of Districts while Social Services come under the County Council umbrella.

    Confusion in the public as to which council does what doesn’t make for effective and efficient local government. I believe that, when Durham and Northumberland went UA in the early 2000s they posted savings of over £50 million. As for numbers, there are far more UAs than you might think.

    As to an appropriate ratio, a ‘council’ with over 100 members can become unwieldy. For example, a large but sparsely populated County like Lincolnshire with over 700,000 inhabitants, on most Councillor to elector ratios, would require well over 150 councillors if it were to become a single UA. The present council chamber struggles to accommodate 70 councillors and officers. Clearly in geographic terms alone, such an arrangement would also be far too remote, so that’s why an area the size of Lincolnshire would require at least two, possibly three, UAs. It also might be worth considering bringing the two existing UAs south of the Humber into the mix, thus returning us to the historic ‘Humber to the Wash’ Lincolnshire.

    Is anyone still awake?

    You know, Mr ‘Radical (or are you Ms/Mrs?), we are putting the cart before the horse. Let’s get the broad canvas in place, colour in the sky and the ground and then argue about the precise details later!

  • Nonconformistradical 19th Jun '19 - 10:57am

    John Marriott
    “You know, Mr ‘Radical (or are you Ms/Mrs?),
    Is that your concern? Does it matter?

    “we are putting the cart before the horse. Let’s get the broad canvas in place, colour in the sky and the ground and then argue about the precise details later!”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Hence my taking issue with Michael BG on his suggested councillor/voter ratio. A ratio which might be appropriate for for some UA where councillors are faced with taking up many more issues on behalf of residents (might this be a crude measure of the council’s effectiveness or lack of?) than other UAs.

  • John Marriott 19th Jun '19 - 12:20pm

    @Non..etc

    No worries about your nom de plume or sex. I just wanted to cover all bases in case someone accused me of not being PC! That’s the problem with requiring anonymity. Me? I’m just an open book. You can even see what I look like!

    Seriously, though, given that in many two tier areas, over half the councillors usually serve on both, and draw two allowances for the privilege, it might indeed Lead to a considerable saving of time and money.

  • Many thanks to John for raising this issue. We are always being told that the man in the street feels remote from the political classes. Not sure that I am going to feel any closer to a member of an English, or even a South Eastern Assembly, sitting in London, that I do to my present MP in Westminster.
    I know I will be in a minority here, but I am not a fan of unified authorities. They may be cost effective, but to me that’s another way of saying democracy on the cheap. I would advocate 1) all decisions taken and services provided at the most local level practicable. 2) serious efforts taken to reinvigorate 1st tier local government, which probably means, 3) revisiting the Localism Act of 2011.
    We do need to consider what the appropriate ration of councilors to citizens is and we should look to reduce that ratio, not to create a larger political class and certainly not to fill pockets, indeed I would look to limit the allowances that local politicians can pay themselves.

  • Nonconformistradical,

    Sorry, perhaps I should have quoted what William Fowler had written. The “they” in my sentence wasn’t referring to those under 18 but the electoral registers.

    My maximum ratio is to do with having small electoral areas where the electorate are more likely to actually know who their councillor is, so councillors have a more equal call on them for casework, and to make councillors less remote from their electors. Why should one unitary authority have a ratio of 6000 electors to each councillor while another only has 2000?

    It seems that currently the Boundary Commission is reducing the number of councillors because of the Cabinet system. If the Cabinet system was scrapped then all councillors would have more of an involvement in the decision making process. There also seems to be a belief that decisions are more effectively taken by small groups rather than larger ones.

    John,

    It seems to me that if Lincolnshire had about 500,000 electors it is too big to be one unitary authority. The unitary authorities of North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire seem to have much smaller populations of under 175,000 which could give them total electors of under 126,000.

    Chris Cory,

    County Councils seem to have higher allowances than districts (I don’t know about unitaries). The special responsibility allowances under the Cabinet system are on the high side and if scrapped I would expect Chair and Vice Chair allowances to be much lower. If everywhere had unitaries then perhaps £10,000 should be the basic with a difference being applied based on the regions 60% of medium earnings hourly rate and the National Living Wage. For example Scottish rates would be reduced to £9910 and the London rates set at £12930. Special responsibility allowances could be capped for each authority at 120% of their basic rate.

  • Thanks for this John,

    The Lib Dems have a federal structure so it’s rather odd that this hasn’t been reflected much in policy.

    England has a population of around 55 million so, assuming 10 regions, that gives 5.5 million each.

    But …

    The point of federal structures is NOT to achieve bureaucratic tidiness but to enable government to better and more sensitively respond to regional variations including geography, history and tradition. In the case of Germany that means that provinces vary from city states like Hamburg and Bremen to giants like Bavaria and NRW. The size range of US states is similarly vast.

    In Britain that approach would mean Cornwall (pop 563k) should be a region as should Greater London (pop +8 million); others would likely lie between those bounds. Historic Yorkshire would fit perfectly into this framework. In the south east outside London, geography suggests that north and south of the Thames should be different regions since journey times though London are a major barrier.

    Some decisions are more difficult. Cumbria (pop 498k) has an even smaller population than Cornwall so should it be a region, or should it be included in the NE or NW? This could surely be decided by polling the residents.

    One advantage of sticking with traditional and/or natural geographic areas is that it would be easy to sell politically and hard to dismiss as mere bureaucratic tinkering.

  • Nonconformistradical 20th Jun '19 - 7:39am

    “The point of federal structures is NOT to achieve bureaucratic tidiness but to enable government to better and more sensitively respond to regional variations including geography, history and tradition.”

    Exactly.

  • John Marriott 20th Jun '19 - 9:23am

    Thanks, Gordon for your kind words, and thanks to all of you for sharing your thoughts.

    The intention of my article was never to deliver those stone tablets to a later day bunch of Moses’s. By my recommendations, based on seeing how local government, in my area at least, works over more than thirty years of active involvement, what I want to achieve is a root and branch modernisation of our political structures, because, call me old fashioned if you like, decision through the ballot box beats decision by Quango or City Mayor every time!

    There’s another thread going the rounds on LDV at the moment from an article by Ingeborg Bottrall on how, amongst other things, Germany addressed the problem of democracy after WW2. It’s a pity that it has, so far, engendered so few comments. With that article in mind, the point that I would make is that, while West and East Germany started economically speaking, from Year Zero (Jahr null), in the West in particular, the politicians and the occupying powers built on the strength of the regional diversity and independence that was the product of centuries of separate development before the foundation of the Second German Empire under Prussian leadership in 1871.

    We on these islands, never ‘defeated’ since 1066, and particularly in England, have been too keen to see our regional diversity being hijacked by London and its ways. We should not be ashamed of our regional accents, for example, we should rejoice in them! Why should we assume that only the people in Westminster, be they parliamentarians, civil servants or cabinet ministers, are the only ones capable of organising things? There’s plenty of untapped talent in the Council chambers up and down the country, as well as a bit of dross as well, as is the case in Westminster and Whitehall! Hence the need to reform both. What we desperately need, for our democracy to survive the continued onslaught from globalisation and unfettered capitalism, is a democratic framework that reflects our differences just as it emphasises what binds us together. That’s surely where Federalism comes in. We also need a set of rules that all must obey. We certainly don’t want to be literally flattened, as Germany was in 1945, for this to happen.

  • John Marriott 20th Jun '19 - 10:40am

    @David Davis
    Some people have long memories! I wasn’t going to contribute to this thread again. My previous ‘rant’ was to have been my valedictory. This reply has absolutely nothing to do with the main thrust of my article; but here goes.

    Yes, Mr Davis, I still don’t think that, if your main residence and your place of work, even on a temporary basis, is in another country, you should accept that, whilst there and, in many cases, not paying UK income tax, you should not seek to influence things back home, especially through the ballot box.

    That was precisely the philosophy that I adopted, when my wife and I were living and working, first in Canada and then in West Germany, between 1970 and 1974. In my case, when I returned, I decided to ‘repay’ the four years of teachers’ pension contributions I had missed in order to catch up, at an extra 3% of my monthly salary over the next 20 odd years of my teaching career, which ended in 1999. Mind you, in the year I worked in West Germany, I was tax free, so I suppose it was a case of ‘swings and roundabouts’, and the dear old DHSS accepted my three years of contributions whilst in Canada for state pension purposes.

    So, sorry if you don’t like it; but that’s the way I feel. That doesn’t mean, of course, that I consider you to be a bad person; just possibly someone, who wants his cake and has every intention of eating it!

  • Agree we must push hard for STV as our PR system of choice, and definitely keen on federalisation, but struggle to know how to divide England into properly sized pieces.

    The argument for larger regions is that they will have sufficient power to be worth listening to, and smaller regions can end up a bit like some of the larger local authority areas. But we would want each region to be broadly comparable to existing devolved areas like Wales and Scotland, but then we have arguments over which city is the ‘capital?’.

  • Much good stuff in your piece, John. I think more involvement by the electorate in the form(s) of their governance is crucial. I would make voting easier by enabling electronic voting and continue to allow postal votes to be freely available. A totally nominated HOL will not be popular with everyone though would remove the competitive element with the HOC.

  • “Never defeated since 1066”!

    The Dutch *conquered* the whole kingdom in 1689! It was a very typical British response to deny that the conquest had every happened, or that that the Dutch were anything but incidentally involved, and claim that the whole thing was an internal revolution; very satisfying for amour propre! But, historically, quite untrue.

    As it was a rather crucial turning point in the history of the Whig Party, distant antecedents of the Liberals, it might be worth remembering.

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