[UK] Councils 'dodging democracy' on council tax rises

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Tequila
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28 Jan 2013, 5:03 am

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Councils 'dodging democracy' over tax rises, says Pickles

Some English councils are "dodging democracy" by not holding referendums on council tax rises, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has said.

Those not freezing council tax should "man up" and consult the public, he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

Ministers want a third year of council tax freezes, and have said those councils in England raising taxes by 2% or more must hold a public vote.

You know, I'm starting to like this man just a little bit more than most of the other wretched people in the Tory cabinet. His heart seems to be in the right place, and he's making encouraging noises.



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28 Jan 2013, 12:02 pm

I thought these councils were duly elected... this isn't California where they passed some stupid referendum to demand two thirds majorities for all tax rises!



invisiblesilent
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28 Jan 2013, 2:28 pm

The whole UK is "dodging democracy" full stop. First past the post is inherently undemocratic. Democracy is about "the people" having a say in the running of government. In the UK a /tiny minority/ of the people get a "say" which has any effect. Not once has my vote made ANY difference to the outcome of an election. That isn't democracy :(



Tequila
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28 Jan 2013, 3:57 pm

invisiblesilent wrote:
The whole UK is "dodging democracy" full stop. First past the post is inherently undemocratic. Democracy is about "the people" having a say in the running of government. In the UK a /tiny minority/ of the people get a "say" which has any effect. Not once has my vote made ANY difference to the outcome of an election. That isn't democracy :(


Agreed.



thomas81
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28 Jan 2013, 6:12 pm

FPTP post isnt the only thing that makes british democracy a sham. There is also the issue of hereditary peers.

The UK wont have proper democracy until the house of lords is shut down and every one of the fat bastards is frogmarched into the street.


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0_equals_true
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28 Jan 2013, 8:31 pm

invisiblesilent wrote:
The whole UK is "dodging democracy" full stop. First past the post is inherently undemocratic. Democracy is about "the people" having a say in the running of government. In the UK a /tiny minority/ of the people get a "say" which has any effect. Not once has my vote made ANY difference to the outcome of an election. That isn't democracy :(


It is all very well saying stuff like this, however it is very common, and vague populist rhetoric.

What actually matters is what it meant by that, and how feasible the alternative.

If by that you would like a referendum on every single policy, decision, and even local government decisions. Well I hate to break it to you are in cloud nine. It is technically, logistically and economically an impossibility. Referendums, can be used on select issues, however politicians know that most of the petitions and talk of direct democracy is gimmick. In fact direct democracy would be absolute chaos, if it was even remotely possible. Even the forefather's of the United State were smart enough to recgonise some of the pitfalls of direct democracy to rule it out, and they had little idea of the scale issues at the time.

If by undemocratic you mean that a council has pushed ahead with a rises, without consultation. However distasteful that is they are acting within the law, and those law were set by Parliament via elected officials. If they were acting unlawfully then you would have a case, so why not bring it? Not all democracy is in real time, nor does it garuentee you will always get your way.

If you want to campaign for a change in the laws so that councils have to do a consultation/poll before changes to rased, then by all means campaign for that.

It is up to you to put pressure on them, and campaign. That is were the democracy lies.

To be honest most council that in areas that it is suicidal to raise, try to avoid it. My council Wandsworth tries make a point of pointing out that they attempt to keep the rates as low as possible. If you come from a area where with a different background of voters, then perhaps you aren't in the majority you think you are, or if you are, they will get a bloody nose if that is a critical issue.

Democracy is messy, it is not simply in the voting but in all the shakeups. People complain about shakups and scandals, etc. But they are rather important. In place with 'enforced stability', you don't really get to raise concerns all. When it blows up it really blows up.

As someone who has lived in countries without democracy, it is pet peeve when people use the word 'undemocratic' too readily. You are here expressing you opinions without fear of reprisal, you have just as much opportunity as anyone else.

Many issues in politics like it or not despite the "not listening to the people" rhetoric are like a tug of war, it goes back an forth. Speaking for "the people" is a bit like taking chemical Ali's word, it may be true but don't count on it. Of course the are going to be issues where there is broad consensus, it is just not always that simple especially on a local level. Parties are not continually going to do things that get them no votes, as their supporters have to come form somewhere. However they are smart enough to realize that some polices have secondary effects, which is part of the Realpolitik.

There reality is you have a council, and that council in voted in on a range of issues, some of which may grate on people. In an ideal world you would be able to choose a party per issue, and everyone would agree on everything, and farts would smell like roses. It is not going to happen.

What Eric Pickles is doing (and I'm not criticizing or making a party political point), is using tactical rhetoric to create a change or at least put pressure on some councils. It is not really undemocratic so much as a notion or perception of fairness. Central government relies on thousands of such situation where they can't possibly consult on everything at the time and Pickles is smart enough to realize this.

It just happens that Eric feels in this case this should be something that should come with a referendum attached. How such system would work is yet to be discussed, but it is big enough issue for him to wan to raise it. Another person of another might say he is being 'undemocratic' to force council into a decision. I don't necessarily agree but herein lies the limitation if you were to take that word too literally. This is part of the political process.

Welcome to your shock introduction to politics. May you never think of it the same way. Next stop the realty of voting: it is mathematically impossible to model voter will/representation and voting systems certainly don't attempt it, in fact is mostly a way of generating a result, but at least ensure you get rotation of government, and shuffles eventually, which can't be said of alternatives.



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29 Jan 2013, 12:03 pm

0_equals_true wrote:
It is all very well saying stuff like this, however it is very common, and vague populist rhetoric.


I would say popular rather than populist and the reason for that popularity is the fact that a huge number of people live in wards which are safe seats - I have always lived in such wards and as such my vote has never meant a thing. Do you really believe that a democracy in which a minority have an effect on the outcome of elections deserves to call itself democratic? I don't.

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What actually matters is what it meant by that, and how feasible the alternative.

If by that you would like a referendum on every single policy, decision, and even local government decisions. Well I hate to break it to you are in cloud nine. It is technically, logistically and economically an impossibility. Referendums, can be used on select issues, however politicians know that most of the petitions and talk of direct democracy is gimmick. In fact direct democracy would be absolute chaos, if it was even remotely possible. Even the forefather's of the United State were smart enough to recgonise some of the pitfalls of direct democracy to rule it out, and they had little idea of the scale issues at the time.


I'm absolutely not in favour of direct democracy, as you rightly pointed out it is simply unfeasible - for financial and logistical reasons if nothing else - to consult every citizen on every decision; I believe referendums ought to be a fairly uncommon occurrence. I'd be in favour of proportional representation of some description; AV would have been a good start but the electorate collectively cut off its nose to spite its face for the sole purpose of sticking one to Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems. That's another reason I don't think direct democracy is a good idea, most people are simply not equipped with the critical faculties to make such important decisions.

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If by undemocratic you mean that a council has pushed ahead with a rises, without consultation. However distasteful that is they are acting within the law, and those law were set by Parliament via elected officials. If they were acting unlawfully then you would have a case, so why not bring it? Not all democracy is in real time, nor does it garuentee you will always get your way.


For the reasons you pointed out I don't actually consider the decision which was referred to in the original to be undemocratic in and of itself, it was made in a lawful manner as you stated. My problem is with the entire system by which politicians are elected in our country.

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If you want to campaign for a change in the laws so that councils have to do a consultation/poll before changes to rased, then by all means campaign for that.

It is up to you to put pressure on them, and campaign. That is were the democracy lies.


Again I wouldn't like things to work that way, I'd simply like for our elections to be decided by some other polling system which would ensure that our representatives have actually been chosen by a majority of the people they represent and that would ensure that each and every person who chooses to exercise their right to vote has the ability to actually effect the outcome of an election. We don't have either of those under FPTP and for me they are by far the most important criteria for a system that purports to be democratic. I am aware of the fact that other systems of polling have problems of their own but having read and thought about the topic at length I consider FPTP to be one of the worst available options. As I said AV would have been a slight improvement in that candidates would have at least been elected by an actual majority.


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Democracy is messy, it is not simply in the voting but in all the shakeups. People complain about shakups and scandals, etc. But they are rather important. In place with 'enforced stability', you don't really get to raise concerns all. When it blows up it really blows up.

As someone who has lived in countries without democracy, it is pet peeve when people use the word 'undemocratic' too readily. You are here expressing you opinions without fear of reprisal, you have just as much opportunity as anyone else.


I fully understand that compared to certain places we have it extremely good. I admit to tending toward the polemic when I argue this issue, I feel very passionately about it and feel very frustrated at my complete inability to influence the policy of our "democracy" using the tool (i.e. voting) which is ought to be the primary instrument of deciding allocation of power in a democracy.

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Many issues in politics like it or not despite the "not listening to the people" rhetoric are like a tug of war, it goes back an forth. Speaking for "the people" is a bit like taking chemical Ali's word, it may be true but don't count on it. Of course the are going to be issues where there is broad consensus, it is just not always that simple especially on a local level. Parties are not continually going to do things that get them no votes, as their supporters have to come form somewhere. However they are smart enough to realize that some polices have secondary effects, which is part of the Realpolitik.


I'm not sure if you were suggesting that I did but I don't claim to speak for the people. The problem I perceive is that under FPTP the two parties which emerge must attempt to cater to a broad consensus; if they do not they will simply not be elected and the other party will. Anybody who holds opinions outside of that broad consensus can forget about having their concerns heard and acted upon; that is what I was getting at when I was saying the system is undemocratic. It really doesn't sit well with me that we have a two-party revolving door that, in its attempt to please everybody, please nobody.

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There reality is you have a council, and that council in voted in on a range of issues, some of which may grate on people. In an ideal world you would be able to choose a party per issue, and everyone would agree on everything, and farts would smell like roses. It is not going to happen.

What Eric Pickles is doing (and I'm not criticizing or making a party political point), is using tactical rhetoric to create a change or at least put pressure on some councils. It is not really undemocratic so much as a notion or perception of fairness. Central government relies on thousands of such situation where they can't possibly consult on everything at the time and Pickles is smart enough to realize this.

It just happens that Eric feels in this case this should be something that should come with a referendum attached. How such system would work is yet to be discussed, but it is big enough issue for him to wan to raise it. Another person of another might say he is being 'undemocratic' to force council into a decision. I don't necessarily agree but herein lies the limitation if you were to take that word too literally. This is part of the political process.

Welcome to your shock introduction to politics. May you never think of it the same way. Next stop the realty of voting: it is mathematically impossible to model voter will/representation and voting systems certainly don't attempt it, in fact is mostly a way of generating a result, but at least ensure you get rotation of government, and shuffles eventually, which can't be said of alternatives.


I wont bother to address most of the rest of this, my original point was intended to be more broad and perhaps having read my reply you'll see that my opinion on the topic I mentioned is a little more nuanced than you initially assumed. I don't especially agree with Pickles on the issue or certainly the way in which he addressed it (in fact I don't agree with most politicians on most things, that is FPTP for you! ;)). I actually agree with most of what you have said. It's completely correct that no polling system can be truly representative of the will of the electorate but having carefully considered the alternatives I still believe that FPTP is one of the worst of the handful of practical but all uniquely imperfect systems which we have available to choose from. The one part of this last quote I disagree with you upon is that the alternatives do not allow for rotation of government; perhaps it happens less often and there is a tendency towards coalitions of the usual suspects plus some fringe parties but it does happen. On balance I think I prefer that way of doing things; everybody's opinion ought to be heard, FPTP does not allow that and some variation upon PR would allow it despite its own unique weaknesses (e.g. small parties being able to wield a disproportionate amount of power).



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29 Jan 2013, 12:08 pm

thomas81 wrote:
FPTP post isnt the only thing that makes british democracy a sham. There is also the issue of hereditary peers.


So you'd rather have the upper house basically being a replica of the lower house?

The House of Lords is imperfect, I agree with you, but it does serve a very good function when it's not stuffed full of party apparatchiks.

I'd far sooner put my faith in a revising chamber of generally good folks who haven't been elected than the arseholes who run the lower chamber.

Oh, it's very Irish republican you saying what you say, but think about it a bit more. Can you think of a better system? I agree with getting rid of the religious in-built element - this is archaic and isn't needed in our society.



Last edited by Tequila on 29 Jan 2013, 12:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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29 Jan 2013, 12:12 pm

invisiblesilent wrote:
I'm absolutely not in favour of direct democracy, as you rightly pointed out it is simply unfeasible - for financial and logistical reasons if nothing else - to consult every citizen on every decision.


What about half-direct democracy, as in die Schweiz? The people vote for the National Council (bit like the federal government) and the Council of States (like an amalgam of the different cantonal governments) and they also vote for their cantonal representatives. But the point of it is that major decisions have to be put to the people. Also, if there are enough signatures on a particular decision (I'll stop waving my SVP hat now), they can take it to a referendum.

Also, the Swiss profoundly reject and dislike the idea of having to vote on everything. They decisively rejected the initiative "Staatsvertrage vors Volk" (Treaties Before the People) as that initiative would have meant that every single piece of foreign legislation would have to go to the vote. The Swiss were content with simply having major treaties be put to the vote and rejected the proposal.



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29 Jan 2013, 5:17 pm

Switzerland is rather small, don't think we can replicate. There are lot of benefit to living is a small wealthy country. The scalability is not here.

Also there is a fickleness, to direct democracy, and as we say with the last referendum it was a largely a false choice. There is a huge amount of arguing over the questions. That is the role of government, to discuss these issues.



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29 Jan 2013, 5:20 pm

@invisiblesilent we are largely on the same page. I also disagree with minority rule. That is the disadvantage of the current FPTP system.

I wouldn't want the large scale coalitions, with some parties who haven't even got half a vote. But i would like more sharing of power on the local level to balance things out.



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29 Jan 2013, 5:31 pm

Tequila wrote:
thomas81 wrote:
FPTP post isnt the only thing that makes british democracy a sham. There is also the issue of hereditary peers.


So you'd rather have the upper house basically being a replica of the lower house?

The House of Lords is imperfect, I agree with you, but it does serve a very good function when it's not stuffed full of party apparatchiks.

I'd far sooner put my faith in a revising chamber of generally good folks who haven't been elected than the arseholes who run the lower chamber.

Oh, it's very Irish republican you saying what you say, but think about it a bit more. Can you think of a better system? I agree with getting rid of the religious in-built element - this is archaic and isn't needed in our society.


I don't think it should be the same at all. I think the upper chamber needs two things, some background on the history of the chamber, and it roles, and some way of selecting them that is fair, and is set apart from commons, and also party appointments.

I would actually suggest an Athenian model. Candidates takes basic test on political history (not party political), they are now registered candidates. There is then a lottery to select them.

Also the terms should be different from commons, whether it is longer or shorter I'm not sure. There could be a rotation. They should be expected to turn up if selected (like jury duty).

I think in the context of the Westminster system that could work, and is fairer. It also a lot less confusing, and doesn't have the judges/church bias or the gimmicky people's peers.



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29 Jan 2013, 5:54 pm

0_equals_true wrote:

I don't think it should be the same at all. I think the upper chamber needs two things, some background on the history of the chamber, and it roles, and some way of selecting them that is fair, and is set apart from commons, and also party appointments.

I would actually suggest an Athenian model. Candidates takes basic test on political history (not party political), they are now registered candidates. There is then a lottery to select them.

Also the terms should be different from commons, whether it is longer or shorter I'm not sure. There could be a rotation. They should be expected to turn up if selected (like jury duty).

I think in the context of the Westminster system that could work, and is fairer. It also a lot less confusing, and doesn't have the judges/church bias or the gimmicky people's peers.


I actually like this suggestion. Perhaps it could be administered along the same lines as the system for selecting lay magistrates.

Never mind taking tests before assuming a position in the upper house, frankly I would love it if people had to take a test on politics and critical thinking before being allowed to even vote :p



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29 Jan 2013, 6:34 pm

Tequila wrote:
invisiblesilent wrote:
I'm absolutely not in favour of direct democracy, as you rightly pointed out it is simply unfeasible - for financial and logistical reasons if nothing else - to consult every citizen on every decision.


What about half-direct democracy, as in die Schweiz? The people vote for the National Council (bit like the federal government) and the Council of States (like an amalgam of the different cantonal governments) and they also vote for their cantonal representatives. But the point of it is that major decisions have to be put to the people. Also, if there are enough signatures on a particular decision (I'll stop waving my SVP hat now), they can take it to a referendum.

Also, the Swiss profoundly reject and dislike the idea of having to vote on everything. They decisively rejected the initiative "Staatsvertrage vors Volk" (Treaties Before the People) as that initiative would have meant that every single piece of foreign legislation would have to go to the vote. The Swiss were content with simply having major treaties be put to the vote and rejected the proposal.


I had not previously read about Swiss government. I will do so, it sounds interesting. From what little you have said I'd be inclined to agree with 0_equals_true that it might be difficult to upscale to a country with a population in excess of 60 million. Like I mentioned earlier I question whether the average person has learned to think critically and so whether they are equipped to make reasoned decisions on important issues; I suspect most people in the UK at least make their voting decisions in referendums and such based on emotion rather than reason and that is a recipe for bad policy - see the AV debacle. Most people are probably capable of learning to think critically rather than emotively but for some reason, despite how powerful and important a tool it is, it isn't taught in schools. Homeopaths would go out of business in a generation if every child took a compulsory GCSE in critical thinking.



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29 Jan 2013, 11:51 pm

invisiblesilent wrote:
I had not previously read about Swiss government. I will do so, it sounds interesting. From what little you have said I'd be inclined to agree with 0_equals_true that it might be difficult to upscale to a country with a population in excess of 60 million.


Why? It sounds relatively easy. People vote for their county council - or a board that is made up of several small county councils in the same area - representatives, the representatives of their county council to the national government, their local council representatives and that of their national government itself. (It wouldn't be exactly on the Swiss model, but similar enough.) The point of it really is that power would be devolved downwards - to the citizens. Issues would be voted on and discussed at as local a level as possible. Of course, if there were serious abuse taking place in a county council, say, an outside agency would have to step in.

invisiblesilent wrote:
Like I mentioned earlier I question whether the average person has learned to think critically and so whether they are equipped to make reasoned decisions on important issues; I suspect most people in the UK at least make their voting decisions in referendums and such based on emotion rather than reason and that is a recipe for bad policy - see the AV debacle.


That's an argument for getting rid of democracy altogether. The people are stupid and we're the enlightened ones. The EU have that idea. We need more responsibility and more democracy, not less.

I think you actually don't give the people who voted on AV enough credit. They were given two bloody awful choices, and the AV option was headed by a mixture of middle-class, left-wing, right-on pricks who didn't want their little campaign besmirched by the 'racists' of UKIP (who supported AV) and others. No wonder they rejected it. I voted for AV but most everyone else I know voted for FPTP out of sheer resignation. The two options were like being given a choice between a cup of cold sick and a turd sandwich.