About Peter Facey
Peter Facey is founding Director of Unlock Democracy. He became Director of the New Politics Network in 2001, later also becoming Director of Charter 88, and was responsible for merging the two organisations in 2007.
Articles by Peter Facey
This week's editor
Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.
Rosemary Bechler is openDemocracy’s Editor.
Mandela: the global icon
Peter Facey (London, Unlock Democracy): Yesterday David Cameron in an article in the Guardian stated “I am a confirmed localist, committed to turning Britain’s pyramid of power on its head.” Now to someone like me who believes that the centralisation of power in England is one of the great democratic deficits, this is a joy to hear.
The reason for the article and the soaring rhetoric was the publication of the Conservatives green paper on decentralisation, Control Shift – Returning Power to Local Communities.
The paper is genuinely welcome and contains ideas such a allowing local referendums if five percent of the local electorate sign a petition and giving local authorities the power to reduce local business rates. It also talks about giving the local councils a general power of competence, which has the potential to increase Council’s power. If these specific ideas make it into the Conservative manifesto and eventually into legislation I will be genuinely pleased.
But this paper does not match David Cameron’s words and turn Britain’s power pyramid on its head. At the risk of sounding like of a reformed Marxist one of the true tests for a localist is money, not just giving local authorities greater power to spend the money given to them, but also the power to raise and spend more of their own money. This will eventually have to involve reforming the present system of local government finance and replacing the Council Tax with a fairer system of local taxation. On this the paper is not surprisingly silent.
Peter Facey (London, Unlock Democracy): The following announcement originally appeared on the Unlock Democracy website.
Today I had intended to write to you to encourage you to take part in the Convention on Modern Liberty, of which Unlock Democracy is proud to be a partner organisation. I had intended to write about what an inspiring event I hope it will be, the impressive lineup of speakers, the nationwide parallel sessions that Unlock Democracy is organising with NO2ID and its timeliness.
But events, as ever, have overtaken us.
On Thursday, the Government sneaked out the draft of the innocuous sounding “Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order.” This “statutory instrument” (not an act), if passed, will
“…change the scope of the application of the [Freedom of Information] Act in relation to information held by the House of Commons and House of Lords regarding expenditure in respect of Members of both Houses. This includes information held by either House about expenses claimed by and allowances paid to Members. Such information is no longer within the scope of the Act.”
Peter Facey (London, Unlock Democracy): Last Sunday night (19th October) I was watching the end of Simon Schama's documentary The American Future on the BBC waiting for Steven Fry’s excellent programme about America. It had a US General giving a speech to World War Two veterans. The General called upon all Americans to engage in the debate at this critical time and vote in the election in November whether they voted Democrat or Republican.
As the final credits rolled I was struck that it was a speech that was unlikely to be made in the UK. I speak as someone who spent much of my childhood growing up on RAF bases and who feels a strong affection the UK military. Our military has been, and on the whole remains, strictly outside formal party politics, for which I am thankful.
But Canada may actually have more things to teach us about are own political future than you think. When Stephen Harper the Conservative PM called the election the polls predicted that the Conservatives would be returned with an absolute majority. Instead Canada is waking up today to another hung parliament and its third minority government in a row. It looks like, in the midst of an economic storm, Canada decided it did not want any one party in total control.
Peter Facey (London, Unlock Democracy): Following the resignation (or was it sacking?) of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair after Boris Johnson said he did not have confidence in him, there has been a lot of talk about political control of policing.
Boris has been criticised for overstepping his authority and the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has made it clear that she will ultimately decide who is the next Commissioner and not Boris. Just to complicate matters even further, Ken Livingstone has now come out in support of Johnson, after a fashion.
What this does is make it clear that we actually have political control of policing, it's just central control. So the question really is who should the head of London’s police force be accountable to, the Home Secretary or the Mayor and Assembly?
At the moment the present system is a mess. The Met is London’s police force but also has national responsibilities. Ultimately these need to be split with the creation of national police unit responsible to the Home Secretary and Parliament and a London force accountable to the Mayor and Assembly and ultimately Londoners. But in the meantime, why not make confirmation of the Home Secretary's nominee for the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner subject to a public confirmation hearing by Metropolitan Police Authority?
Unlock Democracy ran a series of articles about policing and democracy in their latest issue of Citizen, which can be found here (http://www.unlockdemocracy.org.uk/?p=1406).
OnFriday (8thAugust) I like billions of others was watching the Olympic openingceremony in Beijing. Little did I know that while the TV showedsmiling world leaders clapping their teams, Russian tanks had crossedthe Georgian border defend the break away region of South Ossetia.Georgian troops had launched a full-scale attack the night beforeafter days of fighting to retake South Ossetia. Theregion effectively broke away shortly after Georgia gained itsindependence following the break up of the USSR. Russia enforced acease-fire and has maintained peacekeepers in the region ever since,even though the separatists aim is to become part of Russia and joinwith the ethnic cousins in North Ossetia.NowI am not going to paint Georgia as the paragon of virtue, it is aflawed democracy and its President has shown authoritariantendencies.Butat the worst Georgia was doing what Russia did in Chechnyaor Croatia did in the Krajinato attempt to impose its rule by force within its internationallyrecognized borders. And unlike Croatia it has offered full autonomywithin Georgia under international supervision.NowRussia has launched a full-scale invasion of South Ossetia saying itwill not cease-fire until it has recaptured all the territory lost tothe Georgians in the last few days. Georgia has said that it is atwar with Russia and called for an immediate cease-fire.Nowthis conflict goes beyond the rights of Georgia and South Ossetia, wenow have a member of the Council of Europe that aspires to EU andNATO membership being invaded by a UN Security Council Member.Ifit stays so and Russia effectively takes control of S Ossetia andannexes it in all but name, then we are back to real politic and theidea of big states doing what they like in their own backyard. Thiswill not only mean that Georgia's European dream ends, but thatother states on the border of Russia face the real danger of becomingvassal states.Europeand the wider international community must put pressure on Russiaeven to call a cease-fire and accept peacekeepers into South Ossetia.These peacekeepers cannot be Russian, as Russia is now party to theconflict. If necessary we must be willing to impose economicsanctions on Russia and Georgia if they refuse to cease-fire andallow in neutral peacekeepers.TheEU must offer to put in troops to allow both sides to withdraw, thiswould meet Russia formal objective of securing South Ossetia andallow people to return to their homes and rebuild, both those whofled recently and those who were forced out in the 1990's. TheGeorgian Government has said they are willing to give S Ossetia fullautonomy, if the EU took over peacekeeping this could be achievedwith Russia and the EU guaranteeing S Ossetia's autonomy withinGeorgia, thereby achieving both countries formal demands. Now I amnot naïve enough to believe that such a deal would be easy.ButIf this does not happen then 2008 will be remember not for a goodparty in Beijing, but as the year that Europe was again divided toformal spheres of influence and a new cold war divided our continent.