The Tory plan to reduce the size of the House of Commons, from 650 to 600 members is edging closer. A key element of this is to make constituencies roughly the same size. This means inner city constituencies, which tend to have smaller populations will be enlarged, at the expense of Labour. The party may see around 20 seats disappear. For some Labour MPs I suspect this poses a much greater threat than deselection – in which case their most urgent task should be to do all they can to get a Labour government elected. You would think. Instead, all we hear about is hurt feelings over no-confidence votes. But let’s put that issue to one side for now. What has got me going is the impact of austerity on democracy – that is, the downsizing of democracy.
That is one reason for reducing the size of the Commons (not, be it noted, the over-stuffed House of Lords, the world’s second largest legislative assembly, nor the size of the executive). It is also a major factor in the downsizing of many councils. Councillors are increasingly seen as irrelevant, their powers are so circumscribed it hardly seems they have much choice about anything. Within councils new executive structures have concentrated what powers do exist into fewer hands, in the form of the ‘Cabinet.’ Effective scrutiny has been eviscerated. It has to be said that this is not entirely a result of the need for councils to save money. Labour introduced some of the new internal structures for local authorities, all with an eye on making them more ‘business-like.’ Northamptonshire County Council, being Tory-run, one would have thought might have been ‘business-like.’ But it’s being abolished, to be replaced by two unitary authorities. So it looks like those responsible for its downfall will get off scot-free. That’s democratic!
Over in Canada, the latest instalment in King Doug (Ford’s) bid to reduce the size of Toronto City Council, of which his disgraced, late brother Rob used to be mayor has taken a new twist. Ford’s plan, not mentioned in his manifesto seeking to be elected Premier of Ontario in the election last June has been kicked into touch by a judge, mainly because Toronto city elections are already under way. Doug had submitted to the judge his reasoning for his hasty anti-democratic legislation, here is part of it (it relates to a period when Doug Ford himself was a member of Toronto City Council):
“I can tell you that I was there numerous times for a 10-hour debate on getting Mrs. Jones’ cat out of the tree. We would sit there and debate about anything for 10 hours. After 10 hours and thousands of pieces of paper going around, nothing got done. Nothing got done. And guess what. At the end of 10 hours, we all agreed to go get Mrs. Jones’s cat out of the tree. That’s a waste of time ... That is why it is time to reduce the size and cost of municipal government.”
In fact, I suspect that’s the sum of his evidence. I also suspect he’s just settling a few scores, but what do I know. His legislation now has to go back to the provincial parliament. If you are as fascinated by this as I am, see more here on Gordon Prentice’s great blog.
Almost finally in this mish mash of democratic insight, I was encouraged to hear the news that the European Parliament had voted overwhelmingly to pursue investigations into Hungary’s unpleasant regime. Tory MEPs supported Hungary’s apparently anti-semitic leader, Orban, so I expect we’ll hear more about that soon from Jonathan Sacks, who will no doubt be banging on Theresa May’s door demanding an explanation (after appearing on the Today programme, naturally).
But also today, Election Prediction has published the results of a poll which show a majority of the British public favouring a Canadian style trade deal with the E.U. But I’m sure the questions, reproduced below are somewhat leading. It would seem that people don’t want to crash out of the E.U. with no deal, but want some kind of ‘in,’ which just happens to be the only other option which mentions ‘immigration.’ Well, well.
Thinking about Britain leaving the European Union, or "Brexit", and the different ways this might happen. Please can you order these five possible outcomes from your most favoured outcome to your least favoured outcome.
· "No deal" - Britain leaves without a specific deal, and gains full control of immigration, laws and trade, but British exports to the EU are hit by tariffs and other barriers.
· "Canada-style" - a negotiated free-trade agreement between Britain the EU, similar to Canada's deal. The UK has control of its own immigration, laws and trade but has to match EU regulations in some areas, so that many British exports to the EU are ok.
· "Chequers" - the government's current plan. Britain remains in the EU single market for goods and agriculture, but not services. Freedom of movement and some budget payments might remain (depending on negotiations).
· "Norway-style" - membership of the European Economic Area, similar to Norway's deal. Britain remains fully in the EU single market, but outside the Customs Union. Freedom of movement remains, along with EU single-market regulations, and half-rate budget payments to the EU.
· "Customs Union" - Britain remains in both the single market and the Customs Union. Freedom of movement remains, along with EU single-market regulations with large annual payments to the EU budget and Britain cannot sign its own trade deals.
The whole Election Prediction poll report should be on their website soon. This is from an email. I wonder how the options were explained. Perhaps the word immigration just leapt out? How familiar with all these options are You?