“Local democracy”, what’s that?
|July 4, 2011||Posted by Tom Wooldridge under international, national|
‘Local Democracy’ is defined as communities, constituents and local party members being in a position to influence policy, a candidate at an election or even a national issue.
America is the pinnacle of this and has placed considerable power in the hands of voters. This is due to the ‘primary’, an election before the election. These are normally held around three months before the election, where the voters vote for a party’s candidate. Every State and District (constituency) has one for the Republican Party and one for the Democrat Party. These have turned into a very important feature of the election cycle in America, tending to follow public mood even more closely than Presidential elections, as happened in the mid-terms last year when the change in mood of the voters led to three high profile primaries going to Tea Party-endorsed candidates and many more unknown candidates winning further primaries. The public mood showed rising concerns about an over-reached government and rising debt; the Tea Party was strongly against both of these. Primaries allow the people to change a party, policy and bring in new candidate reflecting their concerns.
Compare this to Britain where voters chose only two Conservative candidates in the last two and a half years, none for the Lib Dems and none for Labour, although there is pressure from within the party for a ‘primary’ to choose the Labour candidate for London Major.
In Britain, policy still lies in the hands of London. Labour has set up Policy Forums for all ages, groups and beliefs in the party as part of the policy review that Ed Miliband announced last year. It remains to be seen how influential any of these forums are but by the trends seen since September 2010, Miliband is leading like Brown and Blair. This is from the centre, and what he says goes even if the shadow cabinet and local parties don’t support it. Let’s hope Miliband doesn’t repeat Brown and Blair’s mistakes of ignoring the party too much.
The Conservative Party has a system that appears open, whereby anyone can set up a Conservative Policy Forum, just like the “Big Society” (the policy no one really understands and they can’t explain). In theory, anyone can register as a forum and propose policy, but in practice policy is made by a few people who repeatedly fail miserably (e.g. Francis Maude – his job is to make sure policy is well costed, planned and thought through before it goes anywhere). Most of the U-turns are made between the ears of Cameron and Osborne, and I suspect any forum-proposed policies are ignored immediately – if any readers are part of a Conservative Policy Forum, stop wasting your time and volunteer at your local Snappy Centre instead.
The Lib Dems’ policies are made in London and their party doesn’t even have a policy forum ‘front’. The only way you can affect policy is by paying to go to dinners with important people: click here to see how cheap it is to influence politics.
Grassroots support is also crucial for a party at election time. The Conservatives have ‘social action teams’ to do jobs the council should be but can’t afford to due to Tory cuts. They have a vast network of local supporters that have remained remarkably loyal since last year and even under Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague’s wilderness years.
Labour has an extensive grassroots network, which did decline after 2005 but has picked up again slowly since May 2010 and the increased membership due to the leadership election and opposition to the cuts has improved this further.
The Lib Dems had an extensive grassroots and local network, partly due to many younger people supporting them in local elections, which was particularly important with their previously strong local success. Recently however the trend has been of decline; many members were students who have now abandoned the party (you’ll never guess why) and others were former Labour supporters or liberals who switched their affiliation to Labour or other parties like the Greens.
Ultimately, ‘Local Democracy’ in Britain is a shambles. The ability to influence policy unless you are rich, a banker or high up in the party is virtually non-existent. so just go back to bed and laugh at the government’s latest U-turn on the morning news instead.