The UK has the worst level of democratic representation in the developed world. I've just checked again our lowest level of democratic representation; we have 45m voters and 21,000 local councillors. That's 2,143 voters for each lowest tier elected politician. In France it's 100, Germany 250, Italy 400 and Spain 600. Here in Austria our gemeinde of 2,500 souls has its own Council, Burgermeister and Town Hall - with eight full-time officers delivering waste, refuse, street cleansing, street lighting, snow clearance, water, sewerage, parking, building control, planning, registrar, business licencing and regulation and so on.
The problem is compounded by our own ignorance - every idiot who cries "no more bloody politicians!" is cutting-off his or her own foot. Instead of politicians we get unelected officials, little jobsworths and prodnoses who can't be kicked out at the next election, can't be harangued at public meetings and in many cases don't even live in the same community as we do. I'm even more astonished about those who have spent the last decade fighting the unelected officials in Brussels who then resist more robust representative democracy in their own communities. The truth is that the 1974 local government reorganisation is now unfit for purpose, past its sell-by date and in urgent need of reform, but every government in recent history has been unwilling to touch it. There are no votes in LG reform - but it's something that's desperately needed.
We can't leave it up to Whitehall. Their sole instinct is to centralise control and weaken local democracy; they would halve the number of councils (and councillors) on the grounds that it would save money. It's not something one can expect folk to come out on the streets for, but the truth is that we need far greater local control - over both tax and spend. Switzerland splits tax-authority three ways; the central government taxes about a third for national institutions and infrastructure - the army, air traffic control and so on. The Cantons tax another third, and the local municipalities the final third. In the UK, 95% of our tax-take is decided, rationed and distributed solely by central government.
Of more fundamental concern is that the establishment have turned their attention to our most fundamental democratic rights. I made the meme above in the week after the 2016 referendum result, and I am now scared at just how prophetic it was. Intended as a joke, we've instead been hearing for the past two years proposals to reform our democratic systems from those who really, truly believe that the parodies above constitute responsible public policy.
The usual suspects the Electoral Reform Society have been punting alternatives to the FPTP system to which I've always said I'm opposed. I was one of the 4m who voted for UKIP in the GE, without a single MP resulting. On the face of it it seemed grossly unfair - now less so with the passage of time. Imagine a Parliament in which Gerard Batten and his Muslim-baiters shared opposition benches with the Antifa Party and the Muslim League. No, the AV system and PR is loved by the little radical parties of the far right and far left but isn't good for British political stability.
More worrying are efforts by respectable bodies such as the RSA that in effect act to undermine those most fundamental rights, the secret ballot and universal suffrage. They're proposing something called 'Deliberative Democracy' designed to prevent 'stupid' people from majority voting; under it, a special citizens' panel would be lectured first by 'experts' on the subject under vote, then deliberate collaboratively to reach an outcome amenable to the facilitators. Various versions of this are being punted by academic institutions, think tanks and other establishment dag-clumps, all designed to prevent, as my poor joke had it, the 'wrong people' from using democracy.
Direct democracy also has a place in our system, but not so great a place as some radicals from the far right and far left would wish. Representative democracy provides the best default outcomes, at both national and local levels, but there will, from time to time, be decisions at both micro and macro level to be taken that cross all boundaries - such as the 2016 referendum. Direct democracy is in such circumstances can be the most appropriate tool. But for normal, routine governance and administration, plenaries of elected representatives have proven themselves most capable. Polls should also be available, as in Switzerland, for matters raised by the public - but with a correspondingly high bar.
But one strength, one freedom of which we should never lose sight, never relax our grasp is the protection we get from our system of universal suffrage, the right to associate and to form political parties and above all the right of every adult man and woman in the Isles to cast a secret ballot.
Deliberative democracy and the notion of Sortition had an outing on R4 Today in the context of a way in which a new referendum question could be decided. I told you they were serious. The problem is of course that the one thing a truly representative citizens' panel set up to decide the Referendum Question couldn't conclude is that, erm, there shouldn't be a second referendum.
The Irish establishment have used this method to get both gay marriage and abortion through the referenda process - I don't disagree with the outcomes, but for a critical response to the 'means' rather than the 'end' see Dr Mathew Wall's blog entry here