To take back power we need to change focus

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.

16 Responses to “To take back power we need to change focus”

  1. 1 right_writes 02/10/2011 at 1:16 pm

    As I understand it, local government only raises c25% of its income (to waste) from the council tax and its fining and excessive charging devices, the rest comes from national government. It’s worse in the London area, because they don’t even fund the thin blue line.

    So the power of the local politician is in reality far smaller than you posit AM.

    However, I agree with your contention that “common purpose” types are being insinuated into powerful executive positions, with nary a squeak either from the elected officials, or the public.

  2. 2 graham wood 02/10/2011 at 1:17 pm

    First there needs to be a complete dismantling of the existing party political system at Westminster before any real reform and true representative democracy “by the people for the people” can be restored.

    Gerald Warner has it right in his article in one of the papers today:
    “a new Bill of Rights should remove entire areas of people’s lives from political intrusion. Parliament’s legislative powers should be restricted within constitutionally defined limits and many existing laws, particularly politically correct impositions, repealed. The intruder state must be excluded from all but the most necessary functions of government: no more bans and PC diktats. The obvious objection is that this transformation would have to be effected by parliament, controlled by political parties. The outcome depends on the public will: if a few hooded hooligans can paralyse the authorities, would a resurgent nation reclaiming its rights encounter insuperable resistance? Economic collapse could prove the catalyst for political regeneration.

    But of course the political parties will never agree voluntarily to giving up their entrenched power, perks, salaries, and privileges will they?
    More likely it will be some sort of revolution necessary before some form of true democracy can be restored and representative government take place. The first priority then is to exit the EU.

  3. 3 Davosy 02/10/2011 at 2:11 pm

    Came across this from Twitter. Very interesting. There’s something in this when you look at the the history of how local bases have been the springboard for taking power.

    right_writes you need to add up all the money local government collects for central government then you start to get an idea of the potential of this.

  4. 4 Edward 02/10/2011 at 2:32 pm

    Splendidly well put, I concur most wholeheartedly with every word AM.

    Thank you for, spelling out and providing focus, making solid – a tangible aim.
    At last! We do have the target in our sights – control this pernicious and corrupt local oligarchy and you have the country back in the hands of the people.


  5. 5 Restoring Britain 02/10/2011 at 3:58 pm

    Excellent post AM and good to see a growing number of posts in the blogsphere about positive, legitimate and democratic action to make things right. As a blogger it can be all too easy to simply chart the slippery slope this once great nation of ours is taking.

    I’ve been tinkering with my own thinking recently about the value of operating locally but I’m not sure we can forget about westminster but rather use the same thing to renew on both aspects of our representation. In my thinking I think there might be a way that we can also take on the westminster troughers as well with a local approach. I too am all for a non party movement shopping for candidates willing to represent the wishes of the people.

    In my thoughts, our MPs have two sources of “gravity” to which they are drawn. They are drawn to the one with the most power i.e. that which maintains their place at the trough. The first is Whip inspired party loyalty which draws most by virtue of the fact that the truly powerful gravity of the local electorate lies dormant. As a result, they appear all powerful and untouchable. If however create a presence and a power base on our turf, underscored by what you propose in your post I feel they are going to have to sit up, take notice and will be forced to tell the whips that there are bigger threats to their place at the trough than the party machine can create.

    Personally I think the two can tie together and I think each ward / contstituency will need to develop its own blog / website to reinforce the message. I’ve already got a section in my blog’s sidebar to link to these if you come across them.

  6. 6 John R. Walker 02/10/2011 at 4:23 pm

    I would agree in principle but here in Wales we have an excellent example of what happens when party political tribalism and ‘the Whip’ is replaced by a plethora of independents who have elevated petty bickering and inaction to a new artform – so much so that the work of Councillors in directing the Officers, of making decisions, and of delivering direction to both statutory and discretionary service delivery, has all but ground to a halt.

    That Council is Anglesey and, for better or worse, it has had to be put into administration by Commissioners which actually reduces the process of democracy in much the same way that having judicial reviews of bad laws reduces democracy.

    On most demographic measures, Anglesey is also now the poorest County in the UK with average GDP around half the UK average.

    All I am saying is – be careful what you wish for! In this case, ‘control’ by independents turned into indecision and virtual paralysis and my own experience of meetings where ‘everybody has a say’ is that this could happen anywhere or everywhere!

  7. 7 ToMTom 02/10/2011 at 5:14 pm

    the rest comes from national government

    Funnily enough the Local Authority collects Business rates ad hands it over to The Exchequer, but only since Margaret Thatcher seized Business rates from Local Councils to make it “Government Money” to be doled out to local councils..

    Michael Heseltine decided VAT should increase from 15% to 17.5% to find extra “Government Money” for Council Spending.

    Now you right-writes might not understand that ultimately it is ALL my money no matter how it is extracted, but 100% Council Spending is directed from Whitehall and controlled. Half of Council Spending is on Education + Child Social Services and did you know what target Gordon Brown set ? To increase GCE Pass Rates by 2% annually…..and they have….and I pay for these Norms to be achieved by a levy extracted regardless of ability to pay.

    I have NO control but I am to pay.

    You might love that, but I don’t and want to bring the whole charade crashing down. I do not fund Dictatorships !

  8. 8 WitteringWitney 02/10/2011 at 6:11 pm

    Nice idea AM but I don’t see that working. With 75% of local authority income coming from central government they would not sit idly by while a council thumbed their noses at them. He who controls the money controls everything as we all know and I feel they would appoint administators to run things.

    Somehow the idea of ‘referism’ and a change to a Swiss style of democracy has to be spread among the people.

    What you suggest is of course the peaceful way of getting change. Regrettably I am still of the opinion that the only way we will shift both the elected and unelected officials is by force.

  9. 9 dave ward 02/10/2011 at 6:38 pm

    “And write to the local press so they cannot ignore the groundswell of opinion seeking to challenge the status quo.”

    Unfortunately Common Purpose are well entrenched in the media as well.
    I have had some success with critical letters to my local newspapers, but there is no guarantee this will continue, or if they will be selectively edited to change the meaning.

    I’m beginning to think there is NO hope unless this evil organisation is destroyed first…

  10. 10 Autonomous Mind 02/10/2011 at 7:53 pm

    I think too many people are jumping ahead here.

    What I have outlined is a way to take back control, beginning with a powerful element of government that is considered by many to be a poor relation and which does not attract the kind of attention it deserves.

    This post is about developing a powerbase, or a springboard if you will. Richard North articulates the point well in a comment on his current post ‘Of democrats and autocrats’, where he says:

    ‘We have to build local political bases and use them as platforms on which to attack the central body.’

    Instead of trying to build a national base in the closed bubble of Westminster, we should take advantage of the relative ease with which independents can build support and win election at local level. Stepping stones, my friends. Let’s not try to run before we are on our feet.

  11. 11 Andy Baxter 03/10/2011 at 8:01 am

    an plifting post AM, and combined with some of the comments from others could offer a way, to springboard. However, we need committed devoted driven independent of means individuals to drive any movement into the light, once there of course numbers begin to grow exponentially but it s getting there not just in a few local councils or wards scattered throughout Britain, but in sufficient numbems that will frighten TPTB enough to start to create real change….

  12. 13 Shevva 03/10/2011 at 3:28 pm

    You mean elect someone that will actually listen to the people that elected them? Well there’s an idea.

    Personnally I’m up for burning it all down and promoting William to King and giving him ago.

    I’ll state what I’ve been saying all along though, you will not get this sort of change in this country until people are on the bread line, although this is now starting.

  13. 14 ukipjohn 03/10/2011 at 9:24 pm

    Dear AM,

    This is a great article.

    As a nation we the people should demand the abolition of the Local Government Act wherin is contained so much of what is wrong with local government today. We also need to ensure that the thousands of bureaucrats are removed henceforth from positions of power, or non-jobs in local government organisations, the NHS, etc. Many have long ago lost sight of what they are expected to do, and many councillors lack the moral fibre to hold them to account. They’d be much more useful sweeping our streets or mending our roads, and paid a realistic wage for so doing.

    Locally, we have recently seen “senior council execs” on over £100k pa doubled in number only for half these to be “retired” after a few months albeit on severence packages unimaginable for most of us, to enjoy their artificially inflated final salary pension schemes. Sadly, the problems are not restricted to district and county councils either.

    When, oh when will the people say “enough!”?

  1. 1 Of democrats and autocrats | The Libertarian Alliance: BLOG Trackback on 02/10/2011 at 8:38 pm
  2. 2 England Exists » Blog Archive » A perfectly good rant. Trackback on 22/11/2011 at 1:15 pm
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