A recent report by Professor Keith Shaw and Sue Regan from Northumbria University, working with Professor Fred Robinson at Durham University, has asked the question: Who runs the North – and in particular the North East. The sub-title is: Governance and Governing in an English Region. It is obvious that the criticisms of governance they pose can be levied at any other region of the United Kingdom – and as usual with ‘experts’, the fundamental question of democracy has either been ignored or, as with ‘experts’ in general, overlooked for the sake of convenience.
Their Executive Summary begins with a question by the late Tony Benn:
- What power have you got?
- Where did you get it from?
- In whose interests do you exercise it?
- To whom are you accountable?
- And how can we get rid of you?
And if you cannot get rid of the people who govern you, you do not live ina democratic system.
The same question can be asked of our Members of Parliament and any other person ‘in authority’.
- The North East today has very little power. Most of the region’s MPs (26 out of 29) are in Opposition — and London is more dominant than ever. The former regional institutions have been abolished and — despite the rhetoric — there’s been little devolution of power to the regional or sub-regional level.
- Local government has been weakened by austerity and that is on top of a continuing problem of low election turnouts.
- Many public services are run by people who are appointed – they can’t be voted out, so there is little democratic input.
- There’s been a big increase in the involvement of women in governance. Now, 14 of the region’s 29 MPs are women, compared with 4 women out of 30 MPs in 2000. It’s the same on Councils: 43% of North East Councillors are women, compared with 23% in 2000. However, most senior positions are still held by men.
- Many appointed boards still have male majorities, but the dominance of men has been steadily reducing. Even so, boards where the majority of members are female are very rare indeed.
- In other respects, the people who run the North East are far from representative of the population. Very few are under the age of 45; very few are from Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds; and few are disabled. Most have professional backgrounds. There are far more accountants appointed to boards than people from BAME backgrounds. Seven of the 12 Councils have no BAME councillors. No less remarkably, hardly anyone running the region’s NHS organisations is disabled.
When one considers all, or any one, of the authors criticisms, the fundamental problem which they fail to highlight is the lack of true democracy that exists in this nation. We, the people, have no control over anyone that has an effect on our lives – not one.
Even allowing for the fact that many public services are fun by appointees who can’t be voted out, in true ‘expert’ style the authors also fail to mention that Members of Parliament – whether they are in government or not – can’t be voted out, as and when their constituent so decide. Bearing that point in mind, it matters not therefore what is the gender of said Members of Parliament; nor the ethnicity or physical ability of those involved in the running of our public services as they can’t be voted out either.
In making the point that London is more dominant then ever just what do they expect with the current system of representative democracy – and has it never been but so? The report states:
are in the majority party, the Conservative Party, which forms the present Government. Only 3 of the region’s MPs are Conservatives, while 26 are Labour. Only one of the region’s MPs is a member of the Government. This is very different from the position in 2000, when Tony Blair, MP for Sedgefield in County Durham, led a Labour Government and 6 of the region’s MPs were members of the Cabinet.
So there were three more Members of Parliament from the North East ‘in government’ – and the difference, to the North East, that made was?
I could continue in this vein of ‘nit-picking’ but when the authors have overlooked the fundamental deficiency in our system of democracy – namely ‘people power’ – what is the point?
Just when will the people of this nation realise that under our current system of democracy – representative democracy – they are in the ‘thrall’ of a system of democratised dictatorship?
Will they have the ‘nous’ to break free before it becomes too late for them so to do?
Afterthought: now apply the heading and content of this article to the ‘Brexit question’ and then ask yourselves why we’re in the mess we are!
‘Experts’ – don’t you just love them?