Letter: Local power must wield a veto

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The Independent Online
Sir: Sir John Gray (letters, 8 March) is right to demand a debate on the merits of local government forming the electoral college for a reformed second chamber of Parliament.

The many proposals aimed at strengthening local government - from proportional representation to elected mayors - aim to mimic European and American models. What is usually ignored is that the strength of local government abroad lies not in its internal structure but in its relationship to central government.

Federal systems such as the US and Germany have constitutional constraints on the ability of the centre to meddle in local affairs. Senior national politicians in France depend on holding local office such as that of mayor for their success.

In all three cases local authority is guaranteed by a system which gives the locality a veto on changes which affect its status, through direct representation in the second chamber. Such a system should be considered by the Labour government. All the proposals put forward to enhance the status of local government will be irrelevant if they can be undone at Whitehall's whim.


(Lab, City of Salford)

Swinton, Greater Manchester

Sir: Your leading article of 6 March draws attention to the "dearth of city-wide democracy" to address London's choking public transport problems; and you note the difficulty of incorporating boroughs like Uxbridge "who, historically, have been most reluctant to be included" in London.

The high-handed way the GLC was abolished need not lead to uncritical acceptance of the view that most local government has now to be centred on "conurbations". Most people live in expanded villages. The inwardness that incubates in giant cities leads some to forget that transport links with the major air and sea ports are in just as much need of attention as those within the metropolis.

These considerations suggest an alternative: allow such outer boroughs as fear subsumption to rejoin the counties they were taken from. To the north of the city, amalgamate the counties of Essex, Hertford and Middlesex, having the council meet rotationally in Uxbridge, Chelmsford, Watford and other towns. To the south, likewise, join Surrey in with Kent.

A "leaner and fitter" Greater London could then concentrate on the prodigious problems of the inner city; while there would be just three major authorities, each representing a population about the size of Wales, responsible for thrashing out a fully integrated transport policy fit for the coming century.