Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Sequestration, the new democracy

In many parts of the democratic world there have been growing concerns for the centralisation of power into the Executive.  In the UK this has manifested itself with the declining influence of backbenchers; evidenced in the marginalisation of committees and restricted time for debate in the House of Commons.  Things got so bad in 2010 that Harriet Harman was asked to look into the ‘repatriation’ of powers away from the executive and David Cameron jumped on the bandwagon telling us, “We will weaken the old political elites, strengthen the power of the people, fix our broken politics and restore people's faith".  He must be ruing these remarks today.  For years we have expected backbenchers to behave as loyal supporters of their chosen Party – “Cannon Fodder,” indeed this was an important convention that secured “sensible and orderly government”.  The new Tory in-take has obviously not read the rule book!
Defense cuts in the US 

The Cannon Fodder fight-back was in fact kicked off in the USA, where there is a more subtle balance of power between the Administration, The House and the Senate.  In 2010 a Republican dominated House passed a law requiring the Democrat government to confront the deficit in 2013.  The law required the administration to enact spending cuts in 2013 to decrease the deficit by $1.2 trillion over ten years, these automatic across-the-board cuts became known as "sequestrations" and this agenda has been driving economic thinking and policy ever since.  

The idea of planting a stake in the ground for future action is a device that hands power back to elected representatives and forces the executive to confront popular concerns, which in the past they only have to meet at periodic elections.The Tory party is now populated with unruly riffraff and they have been learning from their American cousins.  The issue in the UK has not been the deficit reduction but our membership of the European Union (EU).   Like Congress who didn't believe Obama who face up to public spending cuts; Tory backbenchers  don’t believe Cameron will deliver on his pledge for an in out referendum, so they are trying a form of sequestration to formalising a commitment for a EU referendum.  This act of parliament, this will bind Cameron to his commitment – uncomfortable but democratic.  

The Conservatives Party (not the Government) have published a parliamentary bill setting terms for a referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Union, in the hope of reassuring the public.  Many Tories were unhappy that plans for an "in-out" vote were not mentioned in the Queen's Speech, and so will try to amend it this Commons debate.  The draft bill says the referendum "must be held" before the end of 2017.  Whilst there is no chance that this bill will be passed, it sets out a binding framework of consent for the referendum that is both powerful and important.This transfer of power to elected representatives is a truly exciting development.  Whilst the idea of a Brexit from the EU does not appeal this new democratic devise of “sequestration” could turn overly centralised Executives into nimbler and more accountable governments.  So good luck to the riffraff they represent an important hope for an improved democratic process. 

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