This week shows only ground-up pressure will change an inert and dysfunctional Westminster
Two developments have made this a telling week in Westminster.
The first has received wall-to-wall coverage:
The second barely got noticed outside the local government sector press:
- a letter from Levelling-Up Minister Neil O’Brien telling councils that devolution will be conditional on them improving their “governance, efficiency and service delivery”.
Both reveal how inert SW1 has become.
Communities have a right to a say
The obvious route out of the lobbying scandal is to simply ban MPs from holding second jobs. The overwhelmingly vast majority of voters would regard this as simply common sense. But a combination of self-interest and lack of vision means the public has to make do instead with weasel words.
Meanwhile, O’Brien’s letter is a sign that for all the excitement that greeted his and Gove’s appointments as heavyweights at a historically lightweight department, they appear to be just as captured by the arrogant and endlessly repeated approach to devolution that stalled previous efforts.
O’Brien’s statement fails to acknowledge that local communities having a say over the decisions and services that so deeply affect their lives is a matter of basic democratic rights.
It is not something to be granted from on high by Whitehall when they have determined that a local council has jumped through enough bureaucratic hoops to get a few limited extra powers.
If there is to be any condition set for devolution, it should simply be that councils are genuinely engaging their communities in decision-making and service delivery in line with the community power vision.
Only pressure from below can deliver change
Both developments are proof yet again that Westminster is unable to change itself from within. Only massive pressure from below will deliver the shifts in power that are desperately needed to restore the legitimacy of our democratic system.
We need to radically transform the culture of a deeply dysfunctional Westminster, by putting power in the hands of the local communities that that culture marginalises.
This is why a third development this week should give us some hope:
- the emergence of a new grassroots campaign to shift power downwards and outwards to communities.
The campaign is supported by organisations including New Local, but is led by the community activists actually making change in a system that constantly works against them.
They are just getting going, but they are a ray of sunlight in an endlessly gloomy political winter.
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