Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Friday, May 09, 2008

Of Leaders and Parking Meters

Finishing up on this, the other thing that the chiefs story raised in my mind, apart from the whole land question which I clearly need to read up on, is that we arguably need something like that over here. There is a whole lot of toing and froing between the traditional leaders and the government over land, but the Zambian central government really relies on the chiefs to a significant extent to be the government in some of the rural areas; the traditional governments have a whole lot of family law delegated to them (bad news for women, often), the chiefs are expected to have a development strategy, they are roped into HIV strategy et cetera.

Do you not get the feeling that New Labour would just fucking love this? About a hundred times a week, we are told that the government's working with communities, listening to communities, reaching out to communities etc etc etc. It never seems to work. The big problem is always that "the local community" doesn't have a phone number; you can say that you're engaging with the community, but nine times out of ten what you're actually doing is working through the same local government officers you had already. As far as I can see, the whole communitarian strand of NuLab politics would work a lot better if we had chiefs in this country, it would give a concrete meaning to all this nebulous talk about communities. I think we can all 100% agree that it would be a big step forward for Hazel Blears if she could issue joint pronouncements with the traditional leader of Salford (presumably called the "Top Lad" or some such).

The confirmation that I am right on this can be seen in the special case of big city ethnic politics, where the tendency of the government to seek out "community leaders" on a scale that runs from "dodgy" to "frightening" is well documented. On the basis that anything that Harry's Place see as the epitome of evil has to be worth a try, I think Gordon needs to extend this approach to the rest of us.

I'd also take the opportunity to democratise the process somewhat, as we do know that at present the ethnic "community leader" scene is rather dominated by political hacks and Inayat Bungwalas rather than the fat old blokes with impressive beards who really deserve the title. Britain is disadvantaged compared to Zambia in this regard as we don't have any historic or hereditary means of selecting our traditional leaders. But traditional leaders we do have - the Kray brothers, Curtis Warren, Cass Pennant, the bookshops are full of them. So I propose a radical constitutional reform with a fairly simple electoral mechanism.

Basically, if you can get 10,000 unique signatures saying you're a chief, you're a chief. Then we have an election among the 4000-odd chiefs for 100 seats in the newly created House of Chiefs, which would replace the House of Lords, on the same "most ticks" basis used for selecting the hereditaries. Every UK citizen gets to endorse one person as their chief. No geographical or other restrictions on where you have to get the signatures from because Britain isn't a traditional or village-based society and I don't see any particular reason why we shouldn't have a Chief Of The BirdWatchers (or indeed of the bloggers) if enough people see that as their primary identity.

The chiefs don't have any constitutional role but a register is kept of them and they can be made the subject of future Acts of Parliament - we can copy most of the verbiage regarding the legal personality of chiefdoms from the Zambian constitution, though omitting the heredity bit. Electors would be able to change their signature by a simple act of will at any time, and chiefs would lose their chiefly status when the size of their "tribe" dropped below 10K.

I'd envisage a world in which chiefs played a role in maintaining the social structures and doing the informal bits and pieces which the government wants "communities" to spontaneously organise, with responsibility for their nominating community, with the support of not much government money. Some of them would be corrupt, but that's local government for you. Some of them would be ethnic separatists and loonies, but again, that's local government for you. I very much doubt that too many of them would be too bad, though, because I've set the minimum size quite high; it's difficult for a group of 10,000 people to prosper by predating off their neighbours. You don't get any special status by having a larger tribe either, so there's no incentive for any chiefs to pile up votes beyond a margin of safety over the 10,000, which ought to reduce the incentives toward populist politics.

I suspect that the roundheads and anti-contrarians will not like this one …
9 comments this item posted by the management 5/09/2008 03:37:00 AM

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