One of the facts about democracy that I’ve learnt, since my involvement with THA, is that, by the true translation of the Greek word to ‘People Power’, we have never actually had real democracy. Casting our vote at periodic elections is only temporary power and limited to just a few minutes of one day.
Thus, the key aims of to our six demands are that the people regain their inherent sovereignty and that they have the mechanisms to exert that power, as and when necessary, over those who they have elected to form a government.
This week I would like to cover three examples of how democracy is a sham at the local level by showing how local councillors make decisions without real consultation of the rate payers who partly fund them.
The first example concerns my own recent council tax bill for 2021/22 which informs me, in an additional A4 letter, that my council tax will be increasing by 3.1% to maintain the services they provide which they imply, but don’t actually state, have cost more due to the pandemic.
There are two points I would make. One I have not been asked whether I support the rise and two I have not been shown any figures to justify the increase.
In our pamphlet there are set out three examples of councils who did ask their electorate what level of rate rise they would support being, an amount to keep expenditure as last year, a small increase or a larger increase, and in all cases the majority voted for the increase to keep expenditure the same as the previous year – that, unlike my council, is how real democracy should work.
The second example concerns Somerset County Council plans to become a unitary authority, which would do away with the four Districts, while the Districts have countered with their own proposal to reduce to two Districts.
I have studied both plans in detail and in brief they both take decision making further away from the people they serve. The consultation for both plans has been scant with the ability to comment on- line which I very much doubt many will do and I also feel pretty sure that the decision will finally be made without any attempt to get the views form the majority of Somerset residents.
Such plans, which will cost millions to implement, are exactly the sort of decision that should be put to all the voters of Somerset with the arguments being presented for both plans and also the status quo. Making such a major decision without proper consultation is unacceptable and undemocratic.
The third example, comes from an article in the paper on Monday about the Haringey Council’s plans to rename ‘Black Boy Lane’ in West Green North London prompted by the Black Lives Matter protests last year. It would appear from the council’s website that the consultation was on-line and I wonder if we will ever know what the response was but I read that the council was prepared to offer every household and business £300 for any inconvenienced should the name change go ahead. The total cost of the change could be as much as £200,000 which, according to the article, includes £50,000 for a support officer to help residents affected and the increasingly common practice, in some areas, of translating the information into 12 other languages.
The issue according to the council is that the term ‘Black Boy’ is now considered derogatory even though the lane shares the name with a nearby pub with the name being attributed to Charles II who apparently had a dark complexion and very dark hair.
The trouble is that the council’s attempts to canvas opinion has been very limited and restricted with, one suspects, the majority being intentionally left out the loop. Our agenda provides people with the mechanism to have their say.
Interestingly the only opinion I’d take account of is from Sharon David,55, a black woman who has live in the lane for 40 years and cannot understand why the council are doing this. This was mentioned in the same article.
Funnily enough the council answer her query on their own website where they go on to explain that they believe “that now, more than ever, we should seek to send out a clear message in support of the diversity of our borough.” It is simply not right that any council can spend our money largely divorced from the people they serve.
Finally, apparently the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick is believed to want local authorities to obtain the approval of a ‘super-majority’ of residents which sounds good but I wonder what this or any government will actually do to make that happen?
In conclusion what these three examples show is that local councillors, as with national politicians, only pay lip service to the views of the majority reinforcing the aim of our six demands is to give people real democracy and thus the power to hold our politicians to account, when necessary, between elections.