Are we ready for Power to the People?

Leading political thinker Vernon Bogdanor praises his old pupil David Cameron for aiming to spread power to the people. Existing reforms like devolution, he says

“have done little to counteract widespread disenchantment with politics. The reason is clear. Constitutional reform has so far redistributed power only between elites, not between elites and the people. It has redistributed power “downwards” to politicians in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and London, “sideways” to the Lords and the judges interpreting the Human Rights Act. But it has not redistributed power to the voter.”

The Stormont model, he might have added, was specifically designed to force the leadership of opposing groups together. The weakness of this “consociational” version of democracy ( if you can call it democracy ), is that it

“focuses on diverging identities such as ethnicity instead of integrating identities such as class, and it institutionalises and entrenches the former. Furthermore, it relies on rival co-operation, which is inherently unstable.”

Any better ideas for joining Dave in bringing power to the people anyone: or without the constraints of bloc leadership, would they split even more and tear themselves apart?

  • “aiming to spread power to the people”

    Those sound like the words of a snake oil salesman, Brian 😉

  • DC

    Yes Brian having reflected a little and digested Cameron’s proposal I have reached the conclusion of media Smokescreen.

    Secondly, isn’t localism just anathema to nationalism of all sorts?

  • Daphné Tremble

    Brian, can you pipe down for a second?

    There are dozens of decent people on this website trying to debate who’s worse, Taigs or Prods, and attempting to develop the next insightful, potentially debate-winning, “whataboutyouswans”

    Your incessant interference with references to profound and influential constitutional politics, with radical implications for the way we are governed over the coming decades, is nothing but a silly distraction to the vital, aforementioned discussion.

  • Driftwood

    As an old cynic, I’ll judge this adventure by Cameron on whether he follows it through. His actions so far tell me he will. Like all projects, most of it will never make it completely. But he’s our best hope and some good may come through the barriers of bureacracy.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    re. “not between elites and the people”

    Did he actually say that with a straight face? Sounds like he lifted that straight out of the Marxism for Dummies book.

    PoshBoyDC should concentrate on getting his own duck ponds and moats in a row before jibber-jabbering about “power-to-the-people” and trying to avoid anything that would damage his own party and deliver real change like electoral reform.

    The Roman Consul system is working just fine in Norn Iron considering what recent events in Coleraine have reminded us that we are still trying to leave behind.

  • sw

    class is integrating identity? huh only to people of the same class.

  • Driftwood

    Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Give the politics of envy a rest. So, possibly, David Cameron has more money than you. He’s the best politician we have in this country. Look at the great work ‘posh’ Boris Johnson is doing in London. These people are the ruling elite, compare them to our parochial bigots, or the peasants that are in charge of the Irish Republic.
    There is a natural ruling class. And they don’t come from Rathcoole or Balymurphy. (OR BT9)
    They come from the playing fields of Eton. And that’s the way it is, that’s the way it oughta be.

  • The Spectator


    He’s the best politician we have in this country

    How? Whatever his potential, what has he actually done? Is this not really about triumph over historicaly low expectations ? After all, compared with G Brown or H Harman, or for example IDS and the early prototype of W Hague (I quite like the new improved model), he’d have had to been a functional illiterate not to be an improvement.

    In so far as his natural PR skills are at work, he is significantly better than G Brown – which makes him about three steps up from Algae. But in terms of actual political delivery, what?

  • Dave

    “Yes Brian having reflected a little and digested Cameron’s proposal I have reached the conclusion of media Smokescreen.” – DC

    Try reading “The Plan” by Dan Hannan (fan of Jim Allister). It’s the best selling ebook on and it is being picked up as the blueprint for Toryism. It’s also the source of Cameron’s plan, so it isn’t a smokescreen. That genie was out of the bottle and working its magic on the periphery. Now that it is in the mainstream, the genie isn’t going to go back into its bottle. It’s bigger than Cameron, and he’s smart enough to roll with it.

  • Dave

    Right, actual topic…

    Power to the people only works when there is one people, not peoples. As Article 1 of the United Nation’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights puts it: “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” The plural “peoples” refers to each nation. The state then is the means by which each nation “freely determine [its] political status and freely [pursues its] economic, social and cultural development.” One nation equals one state. Two nations cannot share one state.

    So, alas, you’re stuck with two nations in one state with each nation trying to control that state in order to exercise its right of self-determination. Since both cannot control the state, both try to veto the other nation’s control of the state in order to prevent its own “social and cultural development” from being, ironically, vetoed by the other nation.

    The usual routine is for the nation to exist before its state. In Northern Ireland, they did it arseways, i.e. the state existed before the nation. That leaves the sovereign power in the awkward position of having to engineer a new nation to fill the state. So, the nation that has its own right to self-determination is the Northern Irish nation. I’m not convinced that this nation even exists.

    What can you do about that? Well, you can try to engineer the Northern Irish nation’s existence by trying to merge the two nations that do exist into this “shared” nation of Northern Irish. This will require a lot of propaganda to commit an act that is tantamount to cultural genocide on both nations, destroying their unique aspects and exaggerating their common aspects. Maybe that can be done, and there is plenty of such engineering being attempted but I doubt it.

    If it can’t be done, then you’ll still have the same underlying dysfunctional dynamics that have plagued Northern Ireland. These will outlast the generations, so even if a generation can be inoculated with nation-engineering propaganda, the next generation will encounter those underlying dysfunctional dynamics and the fun starts all over again.

    But all is not lost. At some point in the distant future, Ireland will build a nuclear power station and site it along the border. With the luck of the Irish, it’ll leak when the wind is blowing in a northern direction and that’ll be the end of our quarrelsome neighbours.

  • Cameron is Blaire-lite, this is puff politics. But Vernon Bogdanor misses a point about devolution that for many, certainly in Scotland it is seen as a stepping stone to independence and a counterpoint to the power of the British State.

  • Zoon Politikon

    The Lisbon Treaty introduces a Citizen’s Initiative (Article 8B.4 or Article 11 in the proposed amended TEU) into the amended Treaties of the Union:

    Not less than one million citizens who are nationals of a significant number of Member States may take the initiative of inviting the European Commission, within the framework of its powers, to submit any appropriate proposal on matters where citizens consider that a legal act of the Union is required for the purpose of implementing the Treaties.

    Surely the Tory Party did not plagiarise this idea from their nemesis?

  • Brian Walker

    Dave and others, you make interesting points about the state and nation. Many states embrace diverse ethnic or national groups and construct institutions to make them work, don’t they? They don’t always start from the mythical state of nature. NI now has institutions which are not perfect but capable of functioning. What’s the alternative? I think that political sociological terms like “ethnicity” are useful enough but tend to emphasise our problems. I have a hunch that a deliberate effort to concentrate on the high stakes of quality of life issues with public consultation on schools, jobs, daily life and yes, culture of all kinds, could very gradually reduce the negative impact of clashing identity.
    More people could even begin to enjoy the diversity and benefit from it.

    In a small way this is what I was involved in in local broadcasting years ago. We had ideals for the whole community and although there was much bitterness and anger, we were sure a single community however divided, existed. Oddly, that conviction seems to have eroded, or at least. those who think that way aren’t speaking up enough.

    This approach may seem trite to natural pessimists and those who are absorbed by the clash of nations. I don’t expect miracles. Coleraine and the rise of republican dissident activity disabuse me of that. However, political awareness covers too narrow a canvas as Slugger comment so eloquently shows. It seems to me that the key to improvement is to take greater responsibility for our own futures. Less standing back from the sidelines, analysing and scolding, more involvement. Much of it is really about making an effort of will. There are support systems to help us do that, but maybe not enough. We don’t need to be trapped by history or fear. Our people have a huge shared experience and much in common. Ask any outsider looking in on us. But we have shared too much of that experience back to back. We need to turn round and face each other more – after being given enough space to turn round.

  • One constitutional reform which might have some benefit at Stormont would be a proper separation of powers, on a modified version of the US model.

    What this could involve would be preventing ministers, including the FM/DFM from being members of the Assembly. Think of how Hilary Clinton had to give up her Senate seat to become Secretary of State, or Obama giving up his to be President.

    The constitutional reforms required would not be considerable, the Ministers could still be chosen bythe nominating officers and require cross community votes etc.

    This would end double jobbing and would place some restrictions on executive nepotism.

  • kensei


    In a small way this is what I was involved in in local broadcasting years ago. We had ideals for the whole community and although there was much bitterness and anger, we were sure a single community however divided, existed.

    Ah. It must be true, then.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit


    re. great work ‘posh’ Boris Johnson is doing in London

    I am a massive fan of Boris – great man for a dinner party – but he is simply piggybacking on the outstanding work of Ken who introduced policies – particlualrly subsidised fares and congestion charges which were opposed by the Tories. lol

    Re. Politics of envy – PoshBoyDC reprimands his own party members for that sort of talk – so be careful.

    re. Eton etc. Your deferential mindset is typical of many Irish Unionists which like much of Unionist thinking has little in common with those on the mainland.

  • kensei
  • Zoon Politikon

    Tony Blair was a posh boy too; he went to Chorister school -> Fette’s College -> St John’s College, Oxford.
    Many forget that to win power he threw out what made labour in substance and form to pursue a wet Thatcherite policy by implementing social reforms that the UK was obliged to implement from the EC and that the UK Law Lords lobbied for.
    Blair was the Presidential PM that ruled by sofa meetings and spin. Remember the double standards of Formula 1, alleged proffering of honours & peerages etc, nepotism of lawyer buddies, Going to war in Iraq on the basis of sexed up and false documents etc etc. Oh did I mention that our present PM wasn’t even elected into office by the people, even if indirectly as the Labour Party itself was denied democracy as he was anointed de facto King.

  • “diverging identities such as ethnicity instead of integrating identities such as class”

    In the word of a good friend: bolloxology. Both are from the ‘us and them’ stable and are expressions of apartheid, self-imposed or otherwise.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Zoon Politikon

    I think you are (inadvertently?) saying that with PoshBoyDC its a bit like more of the same as we had from Blair – and there can be little doubt that PoshBoyDC simply copied much of the Blair approach very successfully and the jibber-jabber-power-to-the-plebs-guff is packed full of classic Blairisms.

  • Barnshee

    its all bollocks-the one power the “people ” really need is the ability to bridle the ability of the ruling “elites” to tax allied to personal accountability where they over spend.
    Now that would focus the bastards minds

  • Greenflag

    ‘Power to the people ‘ ?

    Not exactly an original slogan or nouveau political departure is it ? . A favourite of the trendy socialists of the 1960’s and the Leninist ideal (in theory) of early 20th century Russia was it not ?. In the latter a self chosen elite quickly grabbed the reins of power which led to Stalinist tyranny and a regime in which power ended up not in the hands of the people but in two hands attached to the one person .

    What it really means in practice is power to the people who shout ‘power to the people ‘ the loudest, or who climb to power on the basis of a sound bite that has the authentic market approved ring of white toothed confidence to it .

    Government by slogan has that North Korean/Maoist China ring to it – and is just as much idiotic gibberish as ‘management ‘ by slogan is for the business world.

    What’s needed are practical policies which will/can perhaps reverse the ’emisseration ‘ of large sections of the UK /USA/Ireland etc ‘middle and working classes’ given the huge concentration of corporate wealth and the power of such wealth to determine the political agenda in democracies everywhere.

    The best hope for ‘improving ‘ political performance lies in that strong middle ground of voters who will not be swayed by the ideological certainties of the extremes but who will judge all the parties on the basis of their practical achievments -their track records and the extent to which they keep the spin to a minimum .

  • Greenflag

    Dave ,

    ‘Power to the people only works when there is one people, not peoples.’

    So where exactly has this ‘power to the people’ notion worked ? Finland ? Poland ? Albania ? Iceland ? the Irish Republic ?

    ‘“All peoples have the right of self-determination.’

    Well that’s the theory . You might want to ask the Palestinians , the Northern Irish (nationalists )and (unionists) , the Basques , the Kurds , Lithuanians , Latvians , Estonians , the Lebanese etc how that works in practice in the real world . It’s not always black and white .

    ‘By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status’

    Do they ? That determination rests much more on a nations ability to defend it’s ‘nationality’ and /or resist foreign occupation or hegemony . Economic viability as separate State is also a factor .

    ‘and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”’

    Again more theory. In practice every nation is dependent on every other and is limited to what is practically achievable .

  • Zoon Politikon

    As we all have learnt Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit Blair has taught us that when a political machine are masters over media/PR/communication then rhetoric without substance can become top dog over those who are slaves to it but back up their rhetoric with substance. Blair kept a tight ship with his unmuzzled rottweiler Alistair Campbell just out of sight of his fixed smile. New Labour adopted a ‘wet’ form of Thatcherism – hence their win of 1997. They continued winning due to ‘prudent’ Brown paying Peter by taking off Paul instead of looking over Paul’s shoulder and asking him how he made the money in the City – instead it was allowed to remain unchecked and decreased in regulation as greed fed New Labour’s terms in office. Not only did the Conservatives see this, but closer to home the DUP observed the use of media etc by the Millbank Machine and put it to work accordingly – after all raison d’être of any political party is to have power regardless: It also helps that the ‘other’ parties are debased in political worth.
    As much as political parties like to think they control policy etc it’s really Civil Servant Mandarins that limit it.
    It will be interesting to see who gets elected for I would think the mob will elect the same or worse, in this province I am sure it will be tribal again.

  • Brian, Nadine Dorries blog has risen again – and so has Nadine!!

  • Haven’t we been this way before? As Betty Marsden would have ad-libbed in Barry Took/Marty Feldman radio-sketches, “Many times. Many, many, many times.” And Bogdanor is surely dissimulating not to recognise that.

    Nye Bevan identified the essential mission of the Labour Party, long before Bogdanor or his pupil latched onto a thread of coat-tail:

    The purpose of getting power is to be able to give it away.

    Michael Foot’s biography has Nye Bevan telling a story about ‘power’ [see also Hansard, vol. 395]:

    ‘Very important man. That’s Councillor Jackson,’ his father had said to him.
    ‘What’s the Council?’ I asked.
    ‘Very important place indeed and they are very powerful men,’ his father had replied.
    When I got older I said to myself:
    ‘The place to get to is the Council. That’s where the power is.’ So I worked very hard, and, in association with my fellows, when I was about twenty years of age, I got on the Council. I discovered when I got there that the power had been there, but it had just gone. So I made some enquiries, being an earnest student of social affairs, and I learned that the power had slipped down to the County Council. That was where it was and where it had gone to. So I worked very hard again and I got there and it had gone from there too.

    And so Nye pursued the chimaera of “power” to the Commons, only to find that commodity had been expropropriated by Cabinet Government. In recent years, Thatcher and Blair alike corralled “power” into the imperial premiership.

    Many actions of Cameron, and the fawning admiration of his cadre, suggest that the Cult of the Leader is central to his “project”: those Monday morning Pressers, when ex-cathedra policy is pronounced on the cloven hoof, for example. Equally, his defenestrations (anyone who displeases, from his Parliamentary bag-carrier to the chair of York University Tories) seem to owe more to a medieval prince than a democratic leader: except the strings are pulled, not by some grand vizier, but by the leader-writers of the Mail and the Telegraph.

    So, identify what that “power” thing is, where it should be applied, and then, wherever possible, — “give it away”. Just don’t vest it in quangos.

    Re-boot local councils, making them reponsible to and for their communities for a bit more than dust-bins and dog-mess. Democratise health, education, planning, the essential utilities (but not handing over control to petty interest groups and to plutocrats). Devolve authority. Give Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland tax-raising powers. Disconnect governance (which essentially is the care, development, protection and welfare of citizens) from the industrial complex. Fetter the multi-nations to serve the citizenry (a task which can only be done at multi-national level, in the EU and transnational authorities).

    When the two German states became established (effectively 23 May 1949), the Western powers were anxious to create democratic checks-and-balances. The essential principles were incorpoated in the Basic Law. It assumed (and continues to do so) that power rests at the level of the Länd unless specifically attributed to the federal authorities, decreed interlocking structures of political control (including PR), and the social market economy.

    British constitutional lawyers, administrators, trade unionists were to the fore in guiding and determining this system. Is there a clue therein?

  • Dave

    Greenflag, someone mentioned breaded liberals in scandals on another thread, and that’s how you sound above. You can obfuscate about anything you like but only if you lack core values. Some things are absolutes. The nation and its state is one of them. There is a good reason why all bar 6 of the world’s 203 states are nation states: that is a core principle for human organisation and it is the international law. The problems only arise when people divert from that principle, not when they adhere to it.

    You, as a europhile, have a misguided view that the EU represents an alternative to the applicable international (as set out in the first article of the United Nation’s declaration cited above) rather than being a gross violation of it. By its own projections, by 2050 the EU (assuming 27 states and the stateless nations within them – Catalonians, Basques, etc – are duly stripped of their respective rights to self-determination by then), will be a small state that comprises just 4% of the world’s population. It will also be a weak state where the median age of its citizens will be 52, and 33% being over the age of 65. In other words, the EU’s younger citizens (the minority) will be employed merely to pay the pensions and other entitlements of its older citizens (the majority).

    This isn’t a brave new world but a bog-standard old world. The EU is also engineering a new nation of “European” that will exercise this right to self-determination of the state. So, again, that’s the same relationship that exists between the nation and the state. This is the same deal in Northern Ireland where a new nation must be engineered. The US model, for example, is a state of nations rather than a nation state. That doesn’t mean that it is some hippy United Colours of Benetton entity – far from it, it is one of the most belligerent nationalisms in the world. That is required to unify the nations within the US under a common nationalism of American in exactly the same way that will be required to unify the nations within the EU under a common nationalism of European.

    Unlike the US model, however, all of the nations within the United States of the EU will have experienced national self-determination and none of them will forsake their national rights for an entity that doesn’t offer them anything better and that, even if it did, wouldn’t offer them democracy. So I don’t see the EU as ever achieving its “ever closer unity” (the logical outworking of which is unity) agenda despite the billions of taxpayers’ money that it squanders every year to promote itself and despite all the pigs in snouts grunting their approval of it. It knows that the people are opposed to renouncing their national rights, and that is why it does not permit the people to vote on the issue. It knows full well that only a people can have power, never peoples, so it keeps the power away from the people.

    This is all fine and dandy but it won’t have any long-term outcome other than terrorism and civil wars as some of those who have been inoculated with the artificially engineered nationality of European (such as yourself) become more loyal to the emergent state than they are to their own nation state.

    Lastly, you don’t need to merge sovereignty with other nations in other to trade with them. That piece of nonsense is EU propaganda and it is also EU practice since it is used a device to blackmail the nations into giving their sovereignty to the EU as a condition of trading with the other nations within it. That practice is utterly despicable.

    One other thing, if your wife has an affair, remember that you can obfuscate it so that it isn’t so bad after all. I mean, “in theory” fidelity is supposed to be a part of marriage, but a formula of words can make the paid vanish etc. New thinking and all that… 😉

  • Dave

    Typo 1: “a misguided view that the EU represents an alternative to the applicable international [b]law[/b]”

    Typo 2: ” a formula of words can make the [b]pain[/b] vanish ”

    (There could be more)

  • Greenflag

    Dave ,

    ‘Some things are absolutes. The nation and its state is one of them. ‘

    Is that so ? Homo Sapiens (you may have heard of the species) has been around circa 150,000 to 200,000 years . For all but 500 of those years the human race managed without the ‘nation ‘ state . Of course the ‘nation ‘ state has been an advance in some respects and in time it too will be replaced by another form of governance more suited to the needs of people of all nations . The world in any event is becoming more divided within nations than between nations . Chinese millionaires have more in common with American and British and Irish millionaires than they have with the majority of people in their own countries . The emisserated American middle and working classes will soon have more in common with emisserated Russians and Poles and English, than with Wall St money managers !

    Given the world we live in today -the nations of Walmart , Exxon , Wall St , Citicorps , GE , the American Health Insurance Complex , Haliburton , Morgan Stanley etc are all more powerful than probably 170 of your 203 states. They have become in some respects even a ‘law ‘ unto themselves . They are not loyal to any State or nation just to their shareholders and the next quarterly financial report. In theory they play the game according to the rules of the ‘free market ‘ :).In practice the ‘rules’ are bent to favour the big financial fish .

    Against these huge business ‘nations ‘ the robber barons of the 21 st century, small countries like Ireland , Iceland , Holland etc have no defence . The EU’s anti trust laws are far more effective than the American equivalent the latter basically allows their large corporations to virtually plunder at will throughout the world .

    Even the UK was unable to defend it’s currency value against one international speculator (Soros ) . We have seen from the present crisis how the private financial services sector across the world dragged the entire international financial system to the edge of the abyss, and would have pushed themselves and everyone else over the edge , had the USA Government not refused to bail out Lehmans . Madoff would have continued bilking billions from ‘investors ‘ until their sphincters emerged through their bellybuttons or until his gravestone was being carved !

    ‘ it won’t have any long-term outcome other than terrorism and civil wars as some of those who have been inoculated with the artificially engineered nationality of European (such as yourself) become more loyal to the emergent state than they are to their own nation state.’

    Actual verifiable facts speak more than your long term crystal ball gazing. There has been no war among the member states of the EU for over 60 years . European is not a nationality -it’s a cultural and increasingly a political identity . As for being a Europhile ? Guilty as charged . But I still won’t eat frogs legs . And yes I’ll be voting Yes for the Lisbon Treaty .And the EU is a work in progress.