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RENEWING AND REVIVING OUR DEMOCRACY IN A TIME OF GLOBALISATION - LOCAL GOVT MINISTER

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Giving people a real say in decisions directly affecting their ...
Giving people a real say in decisions directly affecting their

communities and neighbourhoods is helping to boost engagement in

local democracy, Stephen Byers, the secretary of state for transport,

local government and the regions said today.

In a speech to the Foreign Press Association in London, Mr Byers

stressed the importance of globalisation. He also gave details of

significant elector turnout for elections to neighbourhood boards

compared to local and national elections, saying that 'at a time of

globalisation it is crucial that we renew and revitalise our own

democracy.'

The full text of Mr Byers' speech is as follows:

'Events since September 11 have shown that there is a world community

which is prepared to act together.

Some would argue that it is simply impossible for the world to be a

community. That nations will always act in their own self interest.

Of course they do. But one of the key lessons we have learnt from

September 11 is that national self interest and world wide mutual

interests are woven together.

This is the politics of globalisation. For many it is uncomfortable,

introducing elements of uncertainty. A feeling amongst individuals

that they are not in control of events.

But the issue is not how to stop globalisation. The essential answer

to issues of the moment is not less globalisation. Not new national

structures to separate and isolate economies but stronger

international co-operation which makes globalisation work in

difficult times as well as easy ones.

It is for democracy and people to decide how globalisation is to be

managed. It is not something which is out of our hands. Indeed there

is a responsibility on governments to shape the way in which our

world will develop. So that globalisation can be a force for good.

Not just for the developed world but for the poor wherever they might

live in the world.

At a time of globalisation it is crucial that we renew and revitalise

our own democracy. To demonstrate the importance of the democratic

process.

For the United Kingdom there are important lessons to be learnt from

the lack of engagement and consequent low turnout of voters in the

June general election and in local elections.

The low turnout is part of a longer term trend which has affected

most western democracies since 1945. (See tables attached.) However

whilst there was a slow decline in turnout since 1945 a dramatic drop

in participation has occurred during the 1990s.

The two countries to go against the trend in regional/local elections

- Spain and Portugal - witnessed a devolution of power to regional and

local level which could explain the increased turnout.

Indeed we would appear to be witnessing something similar here in the

results of elections to the boards responsible for implementing the

government's New Deal for Communities.

Each board covers a neighbourhood of some 1,000 - 4,000 households

with a budget of around£50 million over ten years. The money has to

be spent on projects to improve the area - tackling crime, creating

jobs, improving health, raising school standards and upgrading the

environment.

Local communities elect their own representatives onto the board. In

Bristol turnout was 54% (compared to 33% in local council elections);

Sheffield 52% (26% in local council elections); Bradford 43% (30% in

local council elections); Newcastle 41% (29% in local council

elections).

The message from these elections is clear. At a time of globalisation

when many issues seem to be beyond the control of local communities

the relevance of elections for central and local government is

diminished.

But at a more local level with neighbourhood candidates and the

possibility of decisions being taken which will directly affect your

community then people do get engaged.

So as we look at ways of renewing and reviving our democracy we must

make it meaningful, relevant and responsive. Only then will we have a

choice of increasing turnout and participation.'

NOTES

TABLE A

Average turnout in national elections in advanced democracies,

1945-1999

Country / 1945-1979 Average turnout / 1980-1999 Average turnout / Change

Australia 94.4 95.0 0.6

Austria 94.0 87.8 -6.2

Belgium 92.5 92.8 0.3

Italy 92.4 87.2 -5.2

Netherlands 91.5 81.0 -10.5

New Zealand 89.7 87.3 -2.3

Germany 87.1 83.5 -3.6

Denmark 85.9 85.0 -0.9

Sweden 85.5 87.3 1.9

Norway 80.7 80.6 -0.1

France 79.5 70.6 -8.9

Finland 78.6 70.0 -8.6

UK 77.1 74.5 -2.6

Canada 75.9 71.8 -4.1

Ireland 74.7 71.4 -3.2

Switzerland 62.8 46.3 -16.5

USA 56.4 50.0 -6.4

Overall Average 82.3 78.7 -3.6

However whilst there was a slow decline in turnout since 1945 a

dramatic drop in participation has occurred during the 1990's. In

Spain, turnout in the mid-1980s was 73.7%. This increased in the late

1990s by 6.9% to 80.6%.

TABLE B

Average turnout at sub-national elections in the EU during the 1990s

Country / Before 1995 Mean (%) / After 1995 Mean (%) / After 1995 / Change

Belgium* 93 -

Luxembourg* 93 92 -1

Italy 85 80 -5

Austria 82 79 -3

Sweden** 85 79 -6

Denmark 80 72 -8

Spain 65 72 7

Germany 72 70 -2

Portugal 60 62 2

France 68 59 -9

Ireland 60 50 -10

Netherlands 54 47 -7

Great Britain 40 35 -5

Before 1995 Mean 72.1, Range 53

After 1995 Mean 66.3, Range 57

*voting is compulsory

** timed to coincide with national elections

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