Bridging the Gaps
I’ve refrained from politics posts during the run-up to yesterday’s elections, but the debates on Facebook and Twitter reinforce my view that Britain’s economic and political divisions are related to the same problems. There is great concern about the rise of UKIP and other extremist parties, not helped by continued mockery of their candidates and supporters. And once again, participation seems to be very low. 2001 should have been a wakeup call when only 59% of the electorate bothered to vote.
Act Local, Think Global
For me, someone who follows political discussions only loosely, this is all due to a failure of those in the political game to explain what they do for a living. I might be lucky in that my councillors and MP are active on local issues. I have met these people, seen them in the streets, in the local papers; the MP also is on the telly regularly as she has a shadow government portfolio is a good egg.
What do MEP’s actually do?
But as far as the MEPs go though I know nothing about how what they discuss in Strasbourg affects my life, community, country and global issues that concern me. I believe this is very common, otherwise we wouldn’t see so many Euroskeptic parties making policy claims that they just can’t uphold. This is also to an extent the fault of the political parties’ and only reinforces the belief that they’re on a gravy train, that Europe is dictated by some Belgian bureaucrats. Or is it Strasbourg?
This was what I was getting at in my March post – that there should be more visible and practical continuity between Council, Westminster and European Parliament. Given that we already have four devolved assemblies that are exactly the same shape as MEP constituencies we should extend these to the rest of the country.
So how might this work?
Here’s my initial outline. I’m aware that some parties advocate regional assemblies but I’ve not looked at their proposals in details. This is just my view as an ordinary citizen and taxpayer.
- Council elections would be as now: a Borough or City represented Ward by Ward on local issues.
- Regional Assemblies: we’ve already got Northern Ireland, Wales, London and Scotland, let’s build on what works and doesn’t work to extend these to the rest of the UK. They can be revised and resized from the existing 650 Westminster MPs as they will be more autonomous than today. You won’t have an MP and MSP, for example.
- MEPs: These can now truly represent the region in Europe as there is a clearer voice from the people they represent. Especially if we hold referenda more often. They would obviously need to be selected as now because of the European Parliament elections, but they would also serve on a National Council.
- The National Council looks at issues that affect more than one UK region, either an something that arises internally (HS2, floods, defence), or comes from European debates or legislation. As well as the 72 MEPs, they would be topped up from Regional Assembly members. In terms of workload, I think we would see RA members that do represent their local constituency, and others that have more of a national view, much as we see now with MPs. I think this would be much more practical than the 650 we have now, some of whom are also Ministers.
- On that note, there’s also one MP who acts as the Prime Minister. So why not vote for a President to assemble his government from the National Council? Not the situation where you have a career politician trying to be a local MP, Prime Minister and President all at once. I don’t think this gives constituents the right support, and doesn’t give the erstwhile Leader of the Country enough authority on the global stage.
In this structure I can still see a role for the Monarch and House of Lords – they could ceremonially approve and review legislation from all of these bodies, depending on the extent of how power is devolved. I.e. there will be many things that are handled by the regions, but others that are of a more significant impact like raising taxes. That way we can retain the semi-derelict Westminster buildings as the traditional home of British Governance, if we want to.
Even the House of Commons Commission acknowledges that, given that there’s a £1 billion refurbishment is required,
“a new building could be designed according to Members’ current requirements to reflect the UK constitution in the twenty-first century, rather than the early nineteenth century, and the running costs of such a building could be much lower than those of the Palace.” (Restoration and Renewal of the Palace of Westminster: Pre-feasibility study and preliminary strategic business case – October 2012 [pdf])
Others have asserted that this would have benefits for the whole UK economy by moving political focus away from London.
Back to Earth
I know this is a rough idea, and we still have the 2015 Parliamentary election to look forward to, but perhaps this might get us thinking about how Politics actually works for the people. What are your thoughts?