"Gordon the decentraliser" - try it for yourself. Say it out loud and see how it sounds.
Convinced? Me neither.
Here are a few things that - if he could be overheard talking about them – could change this perception. There are lots of decentralising platidudes that are the stock-in-trade of most politicians. But few of them address the balance of power-relations that are, in my view, the cause of the continued tendancy towards centralisation. I've knocked this list up in a few minutes and I'm not about to pretend that it's perfect, but it's a start.
However, as I’ve commented before, Gordon Brown takes inscrutability to new levels. With his track record, he’d need to speak to a crowded room and commit himself to any of this before it could be taken seriously. Here goes. He should announce his preferences for....
- A fully elected second chamber. A no-brainer really. If it were up to me, I’d hold an election two years after every general election. Make this chamber the one proposes and scrutinises legislation. Make the current House of Commons (with it’s strong local representation) the revising chamber. This would make MPs more locally accountable and less focussed on the duty that they think that they have to their political parties. It will create stronger local politicians who will become power-brokers. A cabinet full of these is better than the current situation where the PM has most of the patronage at his disposal.
- Proportional Representation – for the elected second chamber elections. Pick a form of PR that doesn’t involve party lists. One where you vote for individuals. This will further reduce the power of the Prime Minister.
- To Scrap party list systems in European Parliament elections and anywhere else, for that matter. Anything that can weaken the hold that political parties have over representatives is a good thing.
- To establish regional constituent assemblies. This would get regional government through the back door. No ‘constitutional’ rubbish. No demands for a referendum. Just give existing local Councillors more power. Give them a secret ballot to elect members to a constituent assembly. This assembly can scrutinise local quangos and RDAs and stuff. They can also be given some of Westminster's powers. And keep quiet about long-term plans to make these assemblies directly elected once they’ve proven themselves. This would make Councillors more powerful and presdigious. People might start to think about who they vote for (and vote) in local elections again. Currently, the public seem to use local elections to send a message to Westminster.
- To give local Councillors more power and resources. Commit to funding ‘member development’ projects. Train Councillors to communicate, consult, carry out local research and apply it to their policymaking. Ensure that political parties don’t have the monopoly on effective policymaking. Make the voluntary sector more responsible to Councillors if they run local services. If the public know who their Councillors are, and see it as an attractive role, local democracy will be enhanced.
- Commit to local neighbourhood governance – but say you won’t do it until you have completed a programme to increase the quality and capacity of local Councillors. Councillors should be the instrument of neighbourhood governance.
- Provide funding to political parties – but NOT for campaigning or organisation. Give them public money so that they can actually do real research – and not make it up as they go along. Fund them to train prospective candidates – ensuring that candidates reach a basic standard of competence in the skills needed for representation. Tell the parties that they will be expected to provide the top level of civil servants when they win an election. Then give out P45s to Permanent Secretaries and all of the other ballast that are always there - whoever wins the election.
- Encourage the social privatisation of local services. Do what Greenwich Council did with their leisure services – privatise them to a worker co-op of existing employees. This will ensure that people who care about local services are running them – and recycling surpluses as service improvements. Put Councillors on the boards of these companies.
- Put VAT on all ‘newspapers’ that are dominated by reportage rather than comment. Incentivise the bastards to report things rather than just make the facts up and then comment on them. (I know, this is my most sketchy proposal here – it needs a bit of fleshing out, but work with me on this, won’t you?)
- And, leaving the best till last, take all football teams into public ownership in some way or other (local rather than national government) and provide them with subsidies based upon their European ranking in, say, 1979 or 1980. This will foster local pride once more, as well as restoring the natural order of things.