The Government and Misgovernment of London

By William A. Robson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V THE QUESTION OF DEMOCRACY

A question of great importance which arises in connection with London government is whether the prevailing methods of administration are moving towards or away from the democratic pattern which was first laid down tentatively by the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, and subsequently developed in the legislation establishing the county councils in 1888, the district and parish councils in 1894 and the metropolitan borough councils in 1899.

The essence of this pattern is extremely simple. It consists, first, of conferring the right to vote on every man or woman who has attained the age of 21 and has occupied, as owner or tenant, any land or premises in the local government electoral area during a short qualifying period. A man or woman is also entitled to a vote if he or she is the husband or wife of a person qualified to be registered in respect of premises in which they both reside. In the second place, it consists of permitting anyone to be a candidate for election if he or she is a local government elector in the area, or owns freehold or leasehold property therein, or has resided there for a period of 12 months preceding the election. Thirdly, it involves the exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and writing, the liberty to criticise and oppose, and immunity from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment.

From these simple elements there has grown up an elaborate system of democratic government of great interest and significance. All the powers of the local authority are concentrated in the council, which is divided into a series of committees responsible for various branches of the work. The committees are brought into direct contact with the actualities of administration, and every member of the council is thereby enabled to participate in the process of decision.1 Service on a local

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1
Cf. E. D. Simon: A City Council from Within, passim; H. J. Laski: "The Committee System in Local Government" in A Century of Municipal Progress. ( London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.)

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