One has to remember we were in those days pre-Facebook and Twitter, and blogs were just emerging. People weren't used to exercising democratic opinion and even power online. Politicians regarded the Internet as just another 'push' medium, for their use and benefit in broadcasting their messages. They certainly weren't used to people answering back, responding as equals on platforms to which they had equal access, with no cost barriers to keep the young, the poor or the regional away. Cameron, like May, was one of the old school; it was his job to speak, and our duty to listen. He would transmit wisdom, we would receive it. The poor dears have had a dreadful shock in the intervening fourteen years and their world has been turned quite upside down. But how well has the Power Inquiry itself endured?
It's available online for anyone interested, and in the days leading up to the Meaningful Vote I'll try to look at the recommendations, starting with 'Rebalancing Power'. The report found:-
- The Executive has become more powerful at the expense of MPs in the House of Commons. In particular, the Prime Minister’s Office and whoever the PM decides to gather around him or her, has become the most powerful political institution in British politics.Well, the first two are as true as they were. The third is much worse than it was then; now called NDPBs rather than Quangos, there is a gradual melding between a growing number of these semi-detached Agencies and government funded fake charities, none of which are under direct democratic control and all of which are exercising even more anti-democratic power. As for the fourth, well, we are dealing with the EU. Just the UN and the rest of them to go.
- Central government departments have also become more powerful at the expense of local government over the last two to three decades.
- Appointed authorities – quangos – have gained extra powers, particularly at the expense of local councillors.
- Supranational bodies and processes of international negotiation such as the European Union have gained extra powers and influence at the expense of nationally and locally elected representatives.
One final comment. Back in the days when I burnt the midnight oil taking a part-time Masters, we enjoyed a lecture given by a respected economist. He took a question from one of my colleagues that contained the word 'power'. 'Power' he responded 'is not an economic concept. We leave that sort of thing to the sociologists'. It was a neat put-down, and understandable given the efforts of economists to convince us that they are scientists, or at least more scientific than sociologists. But untrue. Understanding power is the point of understanding economic behaviour.