Why is it so many people look at Parliament, the party conferences and internal power games within the three main political parties and conclude that politics is irrelevant, remote? Perhaps it is because ordinary people cannot influence politics at the national – or transnational – level.
Many people have asked, via the comments on other posts and via emails, how it is possible to further a democracy agenda and take back power if you reject the party political system. The answer has unwittingly long been provided by the Conservatives with one of their empty pledges – localism. Local politics is the real seat of power in this country. Ordinary people can exert great influence in politics from the local level, but too few realise this and choose to do so.
Local politics is the least scrutinised area of public life. But it is also the most vulnerable to people power. The necessary origins of the kind of non-party political movement that is required to drive the change needed in this country are rooted in local government. That is why it is no coincidence that organisations like Common Purpose have a strategy to build a base of local bureaucrats and civil servants to ‘lead beyond authority’ – or in other words to assume power and, without the awareness or proper scrutiny of the people, further a Marxist agenda that takes advantage of that very lack of local focus and ignorance of where real power resides.
Consider, local Authorities are the most enthusiastic supporters and endorsers of EU policy. Be it the regionalisation agenda, climate change obsession, zealous focus and enforcement of waste disposal and recycling, or health initiatives such as reducing tobacco use, local authorities embrace these issues as a means to increase their power and control. It is from local authorities that many of the members of unelected and unaccountable regional assemblies and quangos are drawn. District and County Councillors are appointed to various bodies that have control over vast sums of public money, such as police authorities, health trusts and education authorities. This enables them to influence and take decisions that affect all of us – and extract ever more money from us to service their pet projects and vested interests.
Control should and supposedly does reside with elected local Councillors. However it is the Council Officers who pull the strings. They write the reports, they formulate the recommendations and all too often they seek to neuter any elected members who challenge them. All too often the Council Officers help the Councillors to feather their nests, thus keeping them compliant and unwilling to rock the boat.
And it is this that needs to be the focus of our attention – the restoration of democratic control, transparency and accountability to stop the Officer tail wagging the Councillor dog. It can be done, for it is far easier to create a non-party political local campaign, build up support in a ward or wards, and then run independent candidates who can win local elections than it is to get a non aligned candidate into Parliament. Candidates who will not play the game, and who when elected will wrest control back from the bureaucrats and put it back in the hands of those who are directly accountable to the electorate, are a nightmare scenario for the powers that be.
Such an effort is the natural extension of using Freedom of Information to expose actions by local authorities that are unjust or unlawful, or to highlight bureaucrats over reaching their power. It is the next logical step to tackling Officers who loot the public purse – steal our money – by writing their own outrageous contracts that see them paid wildly inappropriate six figure salaries and allow them to cash in on hundreds of thousands of pounds of severance payments when voluntarily leaving a post to take up another elsewhere, while also retiring early and getting generous payouts on top of their gold plated pension provisions.
All it takes is having elected people sitting in the Town Hall to say ‘no’. And that is more easily achieved than people imagine.
Of course some Officers will try to cajole elected members into accepting their recommendations. But Officers have to follow the decisions made by elected members – unless they break the law. If Officers refuse to carry out the wishes of the elected members, making that fact public would quickly alter things. It is one thing to attempt to manipulate elected members behind closed doors, but quite another to stand firm in the face of a public outcry. A public that is sick and tired of being pickpocketed to fund initiatives they do not support. A public that is sick and tired of being told what to do by people who are supposed to serve yet seek to control.
While it is good to highlight the anti democratic excesses of the EU – and the incompetence and self interest of politicians in Westminster – if campaigners and bloggers want to see change and make a real difference we need to focus our attention on local government first and foremost. Pile on the FOI requests, attend council meetings and drag the decsions of Councillors blinking into the sunlight, and write to the local press so they cannot ignore the groundswell of opinion seeking to challenge the status quo.
That is the route to building a genuine powerbase outside the structures of the political parties. That is the method of converting a grassroots desire for change into a political movement that can take back power.