Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Keeping it local - the only way democracy can work

The Guardian is running an article today bewailing the disappearance of a crucial local government layer in British society, to the degree that our first port of call for what should be local government concerns these days is actually the police. It's debatable just how much clout village and local community councils ever had, but there is absolutely no doubt that confidence in the institution of democracy - people running their own communities, for themselves, has evaporated almost entirely in Britain today.

The UK has had whatever feeble democratic institutions it originally had perniciously eroded over the past 30 years, and individuals now need to start to fight back by forming their own grassroots local democratic groups and bypassing the undemocratic top-down no-say "system". Looking elsewhere in Europe shows the picture is very, very different.

Manuscripts Don't Burn is based in Normandy, in a tiny commune of 180 individuals. This rural commune possesses an elected mayor and an elected commune council of 10 people, who everyone knows on first name terms, and who pretty much know everyone in the commune. The commune council has direct control over a sizable chunk of the local community tax. Each year they host a New Year's presentation where they explain how their share of the local taxes which everyone has paid in have been spent around the commune, and how they plan to spend in the coming year. Each person in the commune has the opportunity to ask questions directly of the people spending their taxes, to protest, or to organise petitions to spend the money in other ways if they disagree. About 80% of the commune turn up at such meetings, and involvement is high.

If Manuscripts Don't Burn has a local problem which needs dealing with, one goes to the mayor. He is able to escalate things as high as he needs to, and makes himself available for meetings with commune members for two 3-hour sessions a week - it's rarely necessary to wait more than 30 minutes before sitting down to talk to him, face to face.

Manuscripts Don't Burn has tried to explain the British "system" to the French, only to be met with shock. "But if that is your system, how are you represented?" was their universal response.

Manuscripts Don't Burn has no answer to this question. The UK public, quite simply, are not represented in their government, at any level: it is a travesty to call the system democratic. The UK is a one-party state masquerading as a two-party state, pure and simple.

1 comment:

olching said...

Whether it's a one-party or two-party state is irrelevant. Politics is just as meaningless in continental Europe. The only real position to take is to opt out of the entire process of 'politics'. Don't vote!