Having attended yet another ‘workshop’ held on 1st October (by invitation) – the aim of which was to take the movement forward – it is with regret that yesterday I emailed the Director of The Harrogate Agenda, Niall Warry, to advise him that I can no longer support, nor wish to be involved in or associated with, that movement. One of the reasons for this decision is that, four years since the inception of The Harrogate Agenda, the idea has not moved one inch from where it began. There is still talk of ‘Advisory Panels’, ‘Ambassadors’ and ‘Co-ordinating Committees’ – but where is the vision, the strategy to move forward? They say bureaucracy, which incorporates ‘hot-air’, never dies – do they not?
The agenda was scheduled as:
- Welcome, Introductions and THA background.
- Syndicate discussion on ‘way ahead’ and feed back.
- Way ahead support and development
- Open forum, summary and close
‘Introductions, naturally, involved each attendee providing details of who they were, their political background and their reasons for attending. Of the 16 attendees 11 were ‘new faces’, which begs the question that, presumably, as they were ‘versed’ in the aims of THA (and if they weren’t, why were they there) why was time spent on the third part of point 1?
At ‘Harrogate 1’ attendees were spit into small groups, asked to consider democracy and how it could be improved; and then to report back their views to the meeting. This format did not work well and thus did not produce ‘workable’, or pertinent, feedback as the majority of attendees had their own agendas to pursue. Prior to this meeting starting I overheard Niall Warry and Richard North (there were only three of us in the room at that time and while I was not part of their conversation, being pre-occupied rolling what is known up here as a ‘tab’ – ‘down south’ its called a cigarette) discussing this. I felt bound to interject that in prior discussions, some time ago, with Niall Warry I was under the impression that ‘syndicates’ would not be used, but that it would be a ’round-table’ discussion. At which point Richard North strolled over and informed me that much as it would upset me, syndicated discussions were what would happen; upon which I reminded him that that had not worked previously – and left to have my smoke. When the meeting eventually began, lo and behold, what took place was a ’round-table’ discussion – which also did not produce anything worthwhile, probably with two exceptions, due to attendees not having thought about the subject (which they had been previously asked to do) and which therefore resulted in a wasted morning.
After lunch we were treated to a power point presentation of the six demands encapsulating a ‘bullet point’ summary of each ‘demand’. It was at the stage when the bullet-points for ‘demand 4’ began to appear that I ‘stirred’ because included in them was the statement that the people would have no right to propose law. I queried this on two points:
- If the people have the right to challenge/negate law, then by the same principle they have the right to propose law;
- If the people are ‘sovereign’ then only they can impose limits on their rights – no-one else.
At this point it should be noted that in the booklet: The Harrogate Agenda, Demands for governance by the people for the people (authored by Dr. Richard A.E. North) it states on page 14: The power to make law, and especially to reject it, is a measure of sovereignty. If the people have the power to demand that specific laws be made, or if they can refuse to accept proposals for new laws, this is known as direct democracy – the only true form of democracy…….However compelling legislatures to frame laws in response to popular demand is problematical. It can create inconsistencies and anomalies within the legal code and contravene treaties. To an extent, these problems can be avoided by requiring proposals to be compatible with the constitution. A greater handicap, though, is that the process is prone to abuse by well-funded or dedicated single-issue groups, and by popular press and television. This exposes law-making to rule of the mob. Giving the public direct access to the law-making process can end in petty tyranny. As, with official bodies, therefore, we need checks and balances to avoid the system becoming oppressive.
The booklet continues (pages 14/15): The point here is that there is rarely a problem in getting laws made under the current system. Largely, the public is able to raise a hue and cry sufficient to force the legislature into action when there is a perceived need for a new law……To enable the public voice to be heard, we see no reason why a ‘take note’ referendum should not play a part in raising issues, calling for legislatures to consider new laws. A formal requirement for referendums could even be included in a new written constitution. Nevertheless, we believe that such referendums should not be binding.
So, to borrow from the dilemma in which Theresa May now finds herself, is The Harrogate Agenda proposing a ‘soft’ direct democracy or a ‘soft’ representative democracy? I think clarity on this question must be provided. If the Harrogate Agenda is intending to deny the people the right to make law – and in so doing negating its own definition of sovereignty – then it is not; and cannot be, a voice for direct democracy; especially as, interestingly, the author of Demands for governance by the people for the people is on record stating: The idea of direct democracy, therefore, is to an extent simply swapping one form of oppression for another.……………. this [Referism] happens alongside our current system of representative democracy, which I rather like. Hmm……. The article ends: We take control to protect ourselves from our rulers … not in an attempt to replace them.
The foregoing would suggest that there would be a plethora of ‘initiatives’, which is far from the truth – witness Switzerland where there are, annually on average, four referendums which include matters of ‘local interest’.
Direct democracy does, indeed, provide the people to take control in order to protect themselves from the ‘over-reach’ of a political class and as such it cannot, in any way be an attempt to replace them, as obviously we need ‘government’ to manage our and our nation’s affairs. What ‘people’s initiatives’ does provide is the ability of the people to propose law that the political class may not want on the statute book but that the people do.
One of the suggestions made at the meeting – by Richard North – was the creation of a think tank, the name of which he suggested might be: The Institute of Power – a name that was ‘available’. This was, so we were informed, to counter-balance the ‘bottom up’ of direct democracy with an element of ‘top-down’. Er……….?
Whilst such a creation is a good idea, it is only that if its purpose is to ‘inform’; but if the information that is produced has an element of ‘skew’ – ie it attempts to inform us that which we can and cannot have and for ulterior motives; namely to control our decisions, then such a think tank serves no purpose. In such a case, then a think tank would be no better than the current Harrogate Agenda as the latter is, in my view, attempting to inform us that which we can have and that which we cannot.
Why is it I get the impression that, where a new think tank is concerned, coupled with the suggested name, that two words were omitted: ‘and control’?
In conversation with Ian Parker-Joseph it was agreed, where ‘safeguards’ may be required, that a completely neutral constitutional court would, perhaps, serve the purpose in that such a court would be designed to protect both the people and the state from the ‘useful idiots’ such as lobbyists – and what I might term ‘professional interferers’, ie, those with their own agendas – were concerned.
For too long we have witnessed a third of the electorate complaining that there is no point in voting as nothing changes; coupled with the comment that London is ‘X’ miles away, what do they know of my area – this needs to change.
It is my intention to float a new blog within the next 4/6 weeks which will make the case for ‘full-blown’ direct democracy – no ‘ifs’, no ‘buts’.
Stay tuned people – things are about to get interesting………..