Democracy, Devolution & The People’s Plan

Guest blog by Joe Taylor Unlock Democracy Manchester Secretary

The concept of ‘democracy’ shields those without power from total exploitation and domination by those who posses it. The fulcrums of power lie within the state, the market and civil society. Increasingly, power is bleeding away from civil society by the continuous erosion of democratic process. It won’t be given back. The cavalry isn’t coming. To regain lost ground requires that we exercise democracy, not talk about it, dream about it or hold out the begging bowl. We seldom receive beyond that we have the power to demand.

The Scottish referendum highlighted the unhealthy concentration of power within Westminster and the City of London. Chancellor Osborne responded by concocting a deal with a coalition of the willing, comprising of the ten council leaders of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. The twenty-seven MPs, 633 other councillors and the electorate-at-large were largely excluded from the process, which included an imposed ‘Mayor for Greater Manchester’, selected by the same ten council leaders. It was claimed as a ‘devolution revolution’ success for the Chancellor before the election. The compliant main-steam media presented sparse detailed critique before focusing the public’s attention on potentially less embarrassing matters. The main-stream media is rather like smoking. Consider stopping if you do indulge.

Since word of the ‘devolution deal’ emerged, concern across civil society for the social, economic, environmental and democratic implications has coalesced into a campaign for democratic devolution. The Parliamentary Devolution Select Committee, held in Manchester, found “a very significant lack of public consultation and engagement at all stages of the devolution process”. The interim mayor has accepted a petition proposing that a new strategic priority be added to the seventeen official Greater Manchester Strategic Priorities, none of which are about local democracy. Talking the talk is one thing, walking the walk is another.

The ‘walk’ is to canvass the opinions of as many residents of the relevant area as possible, taking account of their individual skills in participation, gather their specific policy suggestions across any topic they wish to make a submission on, assess and refine this input by topic into useful and defensible policy proposals, then form a list of specific policy proposals that are linked directly with public input that will result in a ‘People’s Plan for Democratic Devolution’. It can be done. The logistics have been considered.

Civil society can collectively take the lead role in producing a legitimate ‘People’s Plan’. Candidates for public office, including that of Mayor of a City Region, can then be presented with the ‘People’s Plan’ for comment. Budget cuts have left local authorities without the capacity to facilitate a meaningful devolution consultation. They could help by advertising the process, providing meeting spaces and distributing questionnaires.

We were able to achieve universal suffrage, split the atom, abolish legal slavery and land men on the moon. We can regain democracy too, via the most effective tools we posses; our ingenuity, our concern for each other and the ballot box.