A step forward for participatory democracy


Parliament of England
By Jack Johnston
In terms of participatory politics England has suffered some large setbacks in recent decades. County councils powers have been decimated and handed instead to nine regional assemblies appointed by the UK administration (except London), a situation that will quietly become the status quo next year (as in Monbiot 17.02.09).
This has happened as opportunities for participatory politics north, west and across the Irish Sea have increased under the New Labour government. There representative bodies (proportionally representative) now are responsible for health care, education, transport, planning, the environment, and much besides. The results have been significant improvements in these areas.
England now has a situation where UK MPs not from England have a say in the appointment of the English regional assemblies (as they elected the government) and vote in English legislation. This epitomes pouring salt on the wound. Not only do we lack our own proportionally representative polity but we also have (59+41+17=) 117 of the 646 MPs voting on English legislation who no one in England actually voted for! 
This means that 18% of votes on English legislation are readily sold to the highest bidder or coerced by party whips without any constituents to answer to at all. Without the votes of Scottish and Welsh MPs top up fees would have been rejected, foundation hospitals would have been rejected, and so would of the application for Heathrow’s third run way! (as in Monbiot, 17, 02,09)
This has meant that, in stark contrast to the more progressive policies in Scotland and Wales, England is following the US’ lead on the road to increasingly reactionary domestic policies. Without changing this scenario ongoing prospects for progressive English legislation are grim.
A Parliament of England would constitute a huge and real step forward for democracy in England.  Voices would be given to minorities, large and small, long denied them. Some of them (e.g. the green party) could grow into important coalition partners, or even leaders. Opportunities for smaller minorities would ensure a greater diversity of opinion in the assembly than in parliament. Minority voices as well as minority ‘king making’ opportunities encourages people not to simply vote for the lesser of two (or even three) evils and may very well increase voter turn out, and even real debate.  
Within England this could very possibly turn a tide and divert progressive energies away from fighting a losing war against reaction to catching up with Scotland and Wales, on the many fronts they are pulling ahead on (health care, education, transport, energy).  This momentum could prove extremely inspirational.
The Implications for the UK
This reversal of domestic reactionary policies would be for a vast majority of the population of the UK (51 out of 61 million). However, in addition Wales and Northern Ireland would have support for the upgrading of their own national assemblies into parliaments, further eroding the power of lobbyist perverted House of Commons, and the unelected House of Lords. 
The debate in Scotland could be refocused away from full independence to a practical and constructive role in challenging the current UK policies with the rest of the UK (e.g. wars of aggression and the banker bailout).
England’s more progressive (than the UK at least) voice could join the smaller nations it borders and together begin to exert a counter weight to the neo liberal dominated House of Commons.  An important platform for opposing UK policies (such as foreign policy or immigration) could be created, through which progressive ‘EMPs’ from smaller parties may even by able to mount challenges to the UK administration, in time.
Maybes it is time for England to look to join the ‘arc of prosperity’ (albeit greatly diminished due to financial crisis) that stretches from Finland to Iceland to Portugal? The prospect is surely important to all of the UK’s residents?
I am posted this on the UK Participatory Politics Forum. That’s because what I mean to say is: let’s make the case for an English parliament for democracy’s sake.
Someone Else’s England, George Monbiot, The Guardian, 17th February 2009

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