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Saturday, September 17, 2005

Now I am not going to write anything about the actual events, who is responsible and the predictable Bush-and-America-bashing by the European media, as I have nothing useful to contribute and American domestic policies is not really my area of interest (though I will urge you to read this, by the former editor of the Portadown News, which is both insightful and very funny). The problem that I do see is the question of accountability and responsibility of government levels. I have for many years been arguing that the UK needs to decentralise its state machinery. I have to admit that the situation in New Orleans has raised some doubts for me. Nobody seems to have sole responsibility and all levels of bureaucracy interacted woefully with each other. Isn't that automatically written into such a system? In fact the Katrina catastrophe exhibits all teh same problems with federalism that can be seen in Germany, where the system stifles reforms and makes politicians highly unaccountable - whenever anything goes wrong they can always blame a different level of government. (Incidentally, this is of course one of the big problems with the EU.) I guess one condition for a more decentralised governing structure in Britain would have to be sole responsibility. There should be no óverlapping of areas of administration. For example, if local councils are responsible for waste desposal, there should be no interference via regulations or framework laws or such by higher levels of government. I don't know if that could be workable at all, but it is clear that the lines of authority have to be clear if we want accountable, efficient and democratic local government. (There is of course a problem with contemporary political culture, where it has become sheer unimagineable that anybody but the person at the top carries any responsibilty, as Simon Jenkins has argued.)

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