Power to the People - Community Assembly Democracy.

Posted on | Tuesday, 20 March 2012 | 1 Comment

There is an ugly, seamier side to our political administration. We all know it exists but like zombies are meekly accepting it as part of our culture in a frightening Orwellian sense. What I'm talking about is misuse abuse of power; power wielded by those we have (in most cases) elected into high office. When exposed, it makes depressing reading not least because it drives home how ineffective we are in preventing it from taking place. For example, at the highest level we seem powerless to prevent Government pressing ahead with their NHS bill while they flout public opposition and legal orders to publish the Risk Report, and at a Borough level, we cringe after reading Andrew Gilligan’s constant revelations concerning Tower Hamlets' Mayor, summed up in Lutfur Rahman; all his controversies in one place'’. The reality is, we have little influence over politicians once they are in office. 

There are of course many other cases that illustrate how easy it is for those entrusted with authority and responsibility through our electoral system to slither into the gutter of self glorification and corruption. Our politicians all too often assume an air of unaccountability and permanence once they’ve wormed their way into a 4 year term of office. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the immortal words of William Pitt the Elder, "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it", and that truism is no less relevant today than it was almost 250 years ago. In describing these individuals, I personally rather warm to the more current expression eloquently delivered by Dame Judy Dench in the James Bond thriller, ‘Quantum of Solace’ when she referred to a particularly unwholesome rogue as a ‘slimy bastard’. But then I do feel strongly about the demise of honesty and integrity in our society. Surely democracy can provide the people of this nation with an alternative to the traditional parliamentary system of adversarial politics that so effortlessly accommodates abuse of power. I put to you; the mother of parliamentary democracy has reached an age when it is no longer fit for purpose. We have to remember, it is based on an unwritten constitution that was suitable for a country of just over 4 million people with all its historic social inequalities of the time, coupled with quill pen and parchment paper communication.  

Society has changed dramatically over 400 years yet we cling to a political system that operates much as it did in the 1600’s. It’s time for us to realise that there is now a workable alternative, albeit draconian from the viewpoint of our traditional parliamentarian process, that has never been applied anywhere in the world. It’s time for the mother of parliamentary democracy to become the mother of community assembly democracy.

What if….

….we were able to replace political parties and career politicians at all levels with best-in-class professionals, hired (and if necessary fired) under professional performance contracts, and selected using best practice techniques, by regional and central assemblies formed from community representation?

In outline, consider a ground-up example of how such a system could work in practice. Take the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and a Ward of say 10,000 registered electors. With 17 Wards across the Borough that computes to 170,000 electors (the actual figure for Tower Hamlets as of 12/2011 was 172,092, so pretty much in line with official statistics). Using the existing electoral register, 30 assembly men/women would be selected from the 10,000, in a similar way to the selection criteria for Jury Service. The 30 would form the Community Assembly for the Ward. As with Jury Service, attendance on the Assembly would be a civic duty.  This would provide a representation radio of approximately 1:333. Current local government representation is 1:3374, and central government representation is a staggering 1:74956. Keep in mind that even at these levels, current elected local and central government representation is focused on party political expedients -strategic issues - above community concerns.

Two members from each Ward would be selected by the Assembly to sit on the Borough Assembly. Assembly service would be for a 6 month term with 5 members rotated each month to ensure dynamic continuity and a rolling ground-up representation process. Using the same approach, London’s (32) Boroughs would provide representatives to a London Assembly, and all UK’s Counties would provide representatives to a central Council of State. At each level, executives would be hired (as referred above) to best represent the interests of their respective Assemblies.

The principle is simple - no political parties, no politicians, no adversarial politics in a parliamentary chamber of government versus opposition; a nation truly administered by the people for the people. But, are we prepared to make the commitment to be directly involved in administering our own society? Are we as individuals - nation builders? or do we still need to be led like lemmings, nurtured on a culture of leadership?

There is an interim measure we can apply to test our resolve. Paradoxically the vehicle for this has been launched by David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Their White Paper, ‘Open Public Services’ advocates decentralising and devolving power to the lowest appropriate level. In practical terms this means the ability to establish local community councils as a statutory body. In Tower Hamlets they could be established within each Ward of the Borough. The National Association of Local Councils (NALC) web site states, ‘NALC offers a bursary scheme for London campaign groups that want to create a new local council in their area. Campaign groups can apply for funds to cover reasonable costs incurred for their meetings’.   

With this ‘leg-up’, a Borough wide campaign can be started to install ground-up representation at local government level. As I say this is only a starting point, and is no quick fix to the abuses of power we have to witness on an almost daily basis. But it will have an impact locally and be the foundation for non elected Assemblies in the future.  

This is the beginning of a national debate on democratic reform. Follow Assembly4Reform on Twitter @a4reform for the latest news and to track developments (Draft site due live July 2012).


One Response to “Power to the People - Community Assembly Democracy.”

  1. Anonymous
    26 April 2012 at 10:01

    Very interesting ideas. Somewhat similar to my feelings which are elaborated in the novel 'Shadows in the Wall' politicians are not just irrelevant, they get in the way of progress and are extremely wasteful of the nations' resources
    Derek Bates derek@mtechltd.co.uk

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