PR is not enough. We need to redistribute power!

“Power corrupts”, and I am afraid that what we have seen in the past 2 years is no worse than what went before it. Throughout my adult life not a year has gone by without some political scandal or other being in the news.

The simple observation that our leaders are not using their power with our interests at heart is a part of the problem our country faces, for the powers they exert are not theirs they belong to us, the people. From the abuse of power stem all the other problems we face. At elections power switches from one unchallenged central government to another, with the regional and local of our society set aside for some mythical greater good.

We must stop focussing on the single issue of our voting system, it is the system that is the problem and needs to be changed. Our bicameral system of government (Commons and Lords) is supposed to offer scrutiny, but when most of the Lords are political appointees how can that be so?

The only way to make our system fair is to change both the structure and the election of our government so that power lies as close to the people as possible.

Whilst it is therefore important to change the voting system, that will not resolve the problems our country faces. We must also disperse power to the regions, districts, and communities of England in a way that cannot be reversed at the whim of a central government.

Real change, real levelling up, comes from shifting power (legal and fiscal) to where is it most effective, in Regional State Parliaments and local councils, and then enshrining that power in a written constitution.

This Is what our policy, passed last Autumn, on Federalism for England, proposes, and what so many of our past policy papers on constitutional reform have moved towards.

By making National Government accountable to an elected Senate of the Regions, by creating regional state Governments and Local Councils with real legal and fiscal power, and by making these bodies electable in a proportional voting system, then enshrining all of that in a written constitution we can create a modern democracy in the UK that can encourage economic growth and development across England.

* Ian is VC Campaigns for NW Liberal Democrats, and a member of the ECE, EFAC and FCEC.

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15 Comments

  • George Thomas 1st Sep '22 - 10:49am

    Jonathan Paige in The Independent wrote an article in 2013 which was summarised as “Research shows public opinion often deviates from facts on key social issues including crime, benefit fraud and immigration.” It included this gem, “- Immigration: some 31 per cent of the population is thought to consist of recent immigrants, when the figure is actually 13 per cent. Even including illegal immigrants, the figure is only about 15 per cent.”

    Have we as a UK public got a better grasp on issues since 2013? In some ways yes, in some ways no but (inaccurate) anger at immigration certainly helped lead to Brexit and Boris, and a snobbish response to genuine concerns about immigration (usually just the presenting concern whereas actual concern was lack of local funding) also helped push towards these two outcomes.

    Finland was rated Europe’s most resistant nation to fake news (European annual index, 2020) whereas UK was 12th and Telegraph reported in 2021 that: “last week, it was reported that almost half of the UK’s children complained they were being exposed to misinformation every day – more than one in 10 said they see it more than six times a day.”

    Can you change things without PR and English federalism? Probably not, but even federalism doesn’t go far enough to stop power ending up in wrong hands. It’s much bigger than that.

  • The question for me is how we campaign on moving towards greater democracy.
    We need to look for simple slogans that we can use. We need to recognise that people will think it is not relevant to the many problems they face.
    The campaign to leave the EU used simple and largely meaningless slogans like “take back control” and “get Brexit done”. I never quite understood what those claiming to want to stay in the EU were saying.
    The danger with trying to move towards a democratic system in our country is that many, or perhaps most, of our citizens will not see this as relevant to the many problems they face.

  • Simon McGrath 1st Sep '22 - 11:41am

    Plenty of good stuff here – though national government should not be ‘accountable’ to a Senate of the Regions – it should be accountable to voters.

  • ……………….Real change, real levelling up, comes from shifting power (legal and fiscal) to where is it most effective, in Regional State Parliaments and local councils, and then enshrining that power in a written constitution…..This Is what our policy, passed last AWe must also disperse power to the regions, districts, and communities of England in a way that cannot be reversed at the whim of a central government……………..

    How will local regions get their money?
    Fron general taxation? Taxation is in the hands of the government of the day and this administration is unlikely to ‘fund’ regions run by opposition parties..

    From local taxes? Affluent areas will get wealthier and poorer areas poorer..

    All in all, a recipe for yet another expensive layer of bureaucracy and croyism..

  • Mick Taylor 1st Sep '22 - 1:22pm

    Expats is of course wrong. The original Liberal Party document ‘Power to the Provinces’ [and yes, I do have a copy] made the suggestion that most taxes should be levied at a regional level and that the central government should precept on the provinces for their tax needs. This would prevent the situation envisaged by Expats, especially if the whole government structure was, as LibDems suggest, be part of a written constitution.
    Iain is quite correct. Just changing the voting system -and no-one could be more fervent about that than me – is not enough. Liberals exist to disperse power, not to centralise it and that means a wholly different, federal, system of government, where the kind of elected dictatorship we have become used to would no longer be possible.

  • Iain Donaldson 1st Sep '22 - 4:15pm

    @George Thomas, as your final statement alludes we probably can’t change things without PR and English Federalism, but also we need to embed those things into a written constitution, without that they can be changed by future governments without the consent of the people.

    @Tom Har, I agree with you and you have quoted one of those slogans, we need to ‘take back power’ from central government to local communities and people. We do that by returning ‘power to the people’ as advocated by Grimmond all those years ago.

    @Simon McGrath, I concur and perhaps I would have better using the word ‘scrutinised’.

    @expats a federal government comprises the whole of Government both National and Regional and the budget would be set accordingly. As for the nonsense about more bureaucracy, the point of Federalism is that control is vested with the state parliaments rather than the appointed commissions and quangos, and the privatised monopolies, that host all that cronyism you both despise and would propagate by continuing our current system of Centralised government.

    @Mick Taylor, whilst the Liberal Democrats have not yet gone so far as you suggest, there is no reason why in the long term that could not be achievable. Certainly the greater the fiscal independence of each Regional State parliament, the greater it’s ability to propagate the economic changes needed to improve the region it serves.

  • nigel hunter 1st Sep '22 - 4:24pm

    Is America moving to change its system ? If so, they start, we follow. Alaska has just elected its 1st Congresswoman on a new system.One we know about in the UK. That of rating your candidates by who you want ,then who you like next etc.Otherwise known as rating your candidates in number of who you prefer on a ratings scale.

  • Nonconformistradical 1st Sep '22 - 4:40pm

    @Tom Har
    “The danger with trying to move towards a democratic system in our country is that many, or perhaps most, of our citizens will not see this as relevant to the many problems they face.”

    Maybe. But the chorus of complaints from voters in recent parliamentary by-elections about not being listened to might mean such a move becomes more relevant to more people.

  • Michael Kilpatrick Michael Kilpatrick 1st Sep '22 - 9:17pm

    Just to expand on Iain’s reply to Simon McGrath: It isn’t about /not/ being accountable to the electorate, it’s that within a federal system there are two sets of entities to which the national government must be accountable. One is the people as a whole, the other is the set of constituent states which are distinct communities and/or geographies with a form of a sovereignty within the union, be that Scotland, New Hamsphire, Sarawak or Bavaria.

  • Conrad Baker 2nd Sep '22 - 12:05am

    I regard myself as both English and British but, if forced to choose, I am English first and British second. I want the United Kingdom to stay together as I believe England benefits from being part of the Union though if Scotland wishes to leave, so be it. That said, I do not want to see England divided up into different sovereign entities – England as a whole should have a devolved government just like Scotland has.

  • Thought provoking piece indeed and I’m not meaning to criticise but rather ask what people think about the term “levelling up”? I don’t like the term and I think (hope) it’s more than simply because it it’s a term Johnson (don’t call him Boris) concocted. It’s not only that it’s a meaningless slogan and that it seems to have pitted north against south (again!). To my mind it’s bordering on dishonest. It implies that there is no cost involved. If money doesn’t grow on trees then so called “levelling up” funds have to come from somewhere. A bit like the “American dream” – everyone can be rich. It ain’t so. Maybe we should think of/use a different term? In essence I guess we’re talking about redistribution. Maybe I’m wrong and I simply don’t like the term because it’s been created by Boris, sorry, Johnson!

  • Peter Hirst 2nd Sep '22 - 2:32pm

    making Downing Street accountable to an elected senate is a novel idea at least to me. Though we don’t want to mirror the Supreme Court in N. America there is a place for the judiciary. Government would be accountable to the constitution and upheld by a Constitutional Court. This is a better division of powers as long as it can be modifed and updated. Having two elected bodies invites a power struggle when parliament is supreme as long as it obeys the rules.

  • David Garlick 2nd Sep '22 - 9:09pm

    All power corrupts etc etc.
    If so how does redistrbuting power end corruption? Our politicians need a moral compass.
    The C o E used to be known as the Tory Party at Prayer. That God driven (wether you believe or not) moral element has been lost as few attend faith organisations. Churchil said that Politicinas should govern for the Country first, the People second and the Party third. How sadly lacking that is

  • Are we talking about genuine power to the people, taking influence (if not actual decision making power) down to street level, or are we talking about more power for regional/unitary/borough/district councils, which benefits only the local political elites in those places ? Most local councils have very little interest in talking to real people unless it’s election time, the people feel alienated by the whole process which drives them towards self destructive solutions (Brexit being the ultimate example).
    This topic needs further posts, as it lies at the heart of much of our political and social malaise, and we need policies that allow every engaged citizen a voice.

  • Nonconformistradical 3rd Sep '22 - 11:17am

    @Chris Cory
    “Are we talking about genuine power to the people, taking influence (if not actual decision making power) down to street level”
    If an issue only affects one street then whatever that issue is the appropriate local authority should involve the residents of that street in any decisions.

    “Most local councils have very little interest in talking to real people unless it’s election time, the people feel alienated by the whole process which drives them towards self destructive solutions (Brexit being the ultimate example).”
    In elections where FPTP is used that seems hardly surprising. The problem being safe seats. If there were not safe seats then candidates for elections would need to work a lot harder.

    The recent parliamentary by-elections have been demonstrating voters’ unhappiness at not being listened to.

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