Monday, February 09, 2009

Sovereignty, democracy and education

Janet Daley seems to like David Cameron's ideas for education "reform", but remains a little sceptical to say the least.

What they will discover is what every previous bunch of politicians has discovered when they have tried to make the schools accountable to exasperated public opinion: trying to cure what is genuinely wrong with state education is like wrestling with an octopus. That infamous Education Establishment has a grip on the training of teachers, the appointment of heads, the admissions policies of schools, and the devising (and revising) of the curriculum. It is an ideological closed shop which, in spite of the rage and frustration of parents, employers, and political leaders, remains almost undaunted.

Very true - which is why we need to start restoring some proper democracy to our country.

Democracy is a much understood term these days. We seem to think it just means being able to have a free vote in General and local elections, but it is so much more than that. At the heart of democracy is something called "popular sovereignty". In political terms this means that the legitimacy of the state is dependent on the belief that this is the true will and with the consent of the people.

These days we like to call it "accountability" and the question then, in a democratic nation, is whether a particular arm of the state is "accountable" to the public. Increasingly, it is not. We cast our votes in elections thinking we are making a difference, but whoever we select for central or local government is largely irrelevant because they have very little influence on what each arm of the state does or how it does it.

At local level, whether you have a Conservative, Lib Dem or Labour Council is irrelevant - the heads of departments will still be the same and they will still be predominantly left wing. They are not answerable to the people in any way, shape or form and until this changes then we will continue to struggle to reform our state - whether that be education or health or anything else.

The reason for this is that more and more of the state has become centralised - and as that has grown then various governmental departments have passed sovereignty to more and more unelected and unaccountable agencies. This is the corporatism I have mentioned before - where true power increasingly lies not with the electorate but with various unelected boards and bodies over which we, the people, have no control.

All this has led to the slow erosion of our democracy. When we talk about loss of sovereignty we usually think about how our government has passed control over large areas of our lives to the EU, but they have also passed large areas of sovereignty to other non-governmental, unelected and unaccountable organisations too.

All this is inevitable with centralised, big government socialism. The usual response of both Labour and Tory governments to this problem has been to pass control to a local level - but they have done this in the worst possible way by passing it to unelected and unaccountable quangos - the Local Education Authorities, Health Trusts, Regional Development Authorities and so on - none of which we vote for and none of which are ever held to account by the people they supposedly represent.

The only way to restore democracy is to restore popular sovereignty and the only way to do this, in my opinion, is to reduce government. As a simple rule of thumb, the more "departments" a government has the less democratic it will be. The more control is given to "local" but unelected bodies the less sovereignty we have.

Cameron's ideas for "reform" are flawed for two reasons. First of all, they are based on what they consider they can possibly get the various education bodies - including the teaching unions - to accept and secondly because they do nothing to address the fundamental problem of education (and the state in general). Institutionalised leftism.

What we need now more than ever is a government that is prepared to stand up for true democracy. That's not about giving the vote to more and ever younger people - it is about ensuring that what the government does is the true will and with the true consent of the people.

That requires something of a revolution in our public services - and I see no sign or indication from Cameron that that is something he is genuinely considering. Just the opposite in fact.

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