Everyone’s excited over London’s mayoral elections: debates, scary ads, Boris. Yet national elections still suffer from low turnouts. It’s no wonder we’re so apathetic. Our control over our lives is reduced to two votes: for our MP and for our MEP. Empowering people locally would fix this.
We should start by electing chief constables, local health boards, powerful mayors, and county governors.
Local government’s powers must go beyond mucking with rubbish, libraries, and parks. The State should let local representatives control major aspects of health, education, and law enforcement. Let them create local laws as people want. We could even introduce regional assemblies in England, leaving Westminster to work on truly national solutions.
Critics may mention a 2001 referendum in the North-East where 77% opposed regional assemblies. However, those proposals did not involve MPs giving up significant powers to the regions. Yielding national power to locally elected officials is crucial.
It’s not enough to have an ‘English’ assembly, as England contains 49 million people. We need smaller, truly empowered assemblies; they mustn’t be gimmicks like ‘e-Petitions’ and the ‘Big Conversation’, or need Westminster’s approval.
Take the US, where government starts from the bottom. Yes, we’re not as big as the US. Even so, 37 American states have fewer people than Greater London. In those states, people vote for powerful county and state legislatures, mayors and Governors. And that’s before you elect the Federal Government. Different states can have different laws – just as different problems matter to communities in different areas. A university-dominated county may want different laws on drugs or healthcare than a rural county. They could even learn from each other.
Here Parliament is supreme. Everything important is controlled at Westminster, if you’re English. National law affects us everywhere. It decides when police officers can arrest you, whether your pubs can serve alcohol after midnight, and whether asylum seekers can use your hospitals for free.
If you want to change anything, convincing your MP is not enough. He or she is just one voice out of 646. Instead you need a loud cry, from Birkenhead to Birmingham. You need national consensus before anyone powerful takes a look. Of course, consensus is necessary for the big issues, like war or income tax.
But we don’t need it for issues which worry few people greatly. Most of us don’t have time to create a ‘national consensus’ to change little things. Thus we feel that Government controls us, not vice versa.
Whitehall and Westminster do not have time to legislate everything. Yet everything, besides rubbish bins and pavements, is controlled by these two institutions. People’s voices must not be reduced to just one vote to send an MP to a single Parliament representing millions. We must channel power downwards – or we will continue feeling powerless.