Thursday, 22 October 2015

Not as different as they sound

Sometimes, the MP for Monmouth makes it too easy for people to treat what he says as something of a joke.  His comment yesterday, talking about the publication of the draft of the latest Wales Bill and saying that Wales is edging towards independence fits into that category.  I wish it were true, of course; but the idea that this paltry concoction is any sort of a step towards independence is laughable.
Some of his other comments need to be taken a bit more seriously however.  For too many of those for whom the establishment of the Assembly is an unchallengeable given, his comment that devolution is a one-way street and that “No-one is talking about taking powers away from the Welsh government in areas where it is performing badly” may be dismissed in the same way. 
But, thinking about it, is this attitude of an MP towards the Assembly so very different from the attitude of many AMs towards local councils in Wales?  Much of what our AMs say about local councils seems to be predicated on the assumption that ‘if they don’t do as we tell them, we’ll take the power away from them’, because they see local councils as being simply agents of government rather than having any real mandate of their own.  The two positions sound very similar to me.
Both are, ultimately, based on a very simple premise – that there’s a ‘right’ place for power to live, and any power exercised at a 'lower' level exists solely with the consent of that ‘right’ place.  I don’t doubt that many nationalists and devolutionists would argue that there’s a difference, but I’m not sure that there is.  And constitutionally, David Davies is right – the UK constitution quite clearly defines power as being in the gift of the centre, acting on behalf of the monarch whose power was bestowed on her by God.
At the very heart of Davies’ comments is an axiomatic belief about the right of those who hold power to retain it.  It’s a belief shared by many of those who are only really disagreeing with the way he applies it.  Anybody who wants to disagree with him needs to start by accepting that power belongs to the people, not the centre, and that the people have the right to decide where it should be exercised.  Merely moving the ‘right’ place for power to reside from London to Cardiff will never be enough.


Anonymous said...

Not convinced this is right. What powers have been proposed to be taken away from local authorities because they are doing badly? I'm not sure AMs are doing this.

If you mean the time when the Isle of Anglesey council was suspended or taken over, that was because of a complete failure of governance. But local democracy was restored after the central intervention.

John Dixon said...


There's more than one way of taking powers away from local authorities. Setting ever more standards and constraints on the decisions that they can take so that they no longer control policy, only administration, is an effective way of stripping them of power.

Anonymous said...

Power? What is power?

The only reason an MP has any power is because he has money to spend. But it isn't his money, it's money raised through taxation. And if he has too money to spend he might actually believe he has some real power. And this would be very dangerous.

By keeping taxation low the amount of money MP's and AM's have to spend is also kept low. And so their 'power' is pretty negligible. Similarly so with local authorities. And this is just how it ought to be.

The case of Anglesey council raises many interesting questions. Firstly the decision to rename the island 'The Isle of Anglesey' was entirely cretinous but few complained because it whatever the council decreed everyone would still go on referring to the island as Anglesey (unless you actually worked for the council and had to pay homage to such stupidity). On the other hand the fact that the entire make up of the local authority and its internal workings were 'less than honest' didn't phase the local people either. We all continued to pay the institution via council taxes and so. And largely continued to pay willingly. Why was this? I suspect because when it comes down to it most people have a loathing for 'low level' politics and all those that operate at that level. A small annual tax (because it was a small amount at that time) to keep such low life well away seemed a pretty good deal for most of us at the time. Now, given that council tax has risen substantially I know most would vote to abolish Anglesey council. Thankfully this is just what the WG is proposing.

John Dixon said...

It's hard to know where to start on that, but here are a few points to note:

1. MPs have no money to spend, and very little power. Most of them simply do and say what they're told.

2. Real power rests with the executive, not the legislature.

3. Power goes beyond spending money; laws don't have to involve expenditure to have an impact on people.

4. Your comments on Ynys Môn look like the views of someone with an axe to grind rather than a contribution to debate on the future of Welsh local government. The latter is always welcome here whether I agree with it or not; the former we can do without.

The Red Flag said...

In recent years we have observed a trend in Welsh local government that has seen unelected officers effectively take control of local authorities.

This is invariably achieved with the connivance of a small group of councillors who commit their loyalty to senior officers rather than to the council to which they were elected and those living within the local authority area.