Friday, 30 July 2010

Another referendum

Democracy is an easy concept to understand, but a difficult one to implement.

The present coalition government still appears to be making policy on the hoof and the latest one from Eric Pickles purports to extend democracy. He wants there to be referendums in Local Authority areas where LAs exceed a certain figure of Council Tax increase; the figure will be set by government - presumably Eric Pickles.

It sounds fine superficially as a sound bite, but the scheme’s half-baked. Council’s set their budgets around February for the next year. Now the referendum (which EP says will be binding) will be held at the same time as Local Elections - these are in May. If the increase in Council Tax is turned down by the local electorate is Pickles’s idea that the LA will have to go back into the budget making process - even though they’ll be into the second month of their financial year?

And what happens in LA areas like Birmingham, where, every fourth year there aren’t local elections? Will the councils have the increased burden of carrying out a referendum just on this issue - a financial cost, of course.

Local elections have turn-outs around 40 - 50 percent. It’s human nature that those against things have a greater impetus to turn out and vote than those that aren’t against things - or feel a bit OK or a bit not OK about them. The scheme is weighted therefore in favour of overturning LA budgets. This isn’t good for prudent running of councils. But it does sound good, doesn’t it?

The most effective referendum, in fact, is the election of council members themselves, and high Council Tax rises would inevitably figure significantly in Local Elections. Councillors have to stand up and be counted . . .

We should be concerned, too, about the election of Local Police Chiefs. How are we going to know who these people are? (Other than by reading small biogs of them.) The most obvious way to recognise who we’d want in the police jobs will be by political badging. So the police force will become politicised in an unwelcome way. But, heigh-ho, we’ll have been given another vote on it.

Here’s a potential scenario . . . . I enter a booth to vote in a local election, but it’s a General Election too - another vote, under AV so I have to rank. I have a referendum, on LA budgets, and another vote on who should run the police force . . . Any more on the way, Davey?

Big Society? Big nonsense (I’ve Bowdlerised this last sentence.)

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