Local Government Innovation & Redesign

To support local government redesign efforts and recognize the innovative work already underway, the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center has partnered with state associations to create the Local Government Innovation & Redesign Guide and host a yearly Local Government Innovations Awards ceremony.

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Musings from abroad: Election Bound

For a US citizen, it's hard to believe that a major democratic country like Britain can pull off the election campaign for the highest offices in the land in exactly one month. Nevertheless, that is what's happening: the current prime minister motored over to Buckingham Palace on April 6 to ask the queen's permission to dissolve the current government and hold elections for a new Parliament on May 6. (For an American, it's also hard to believe that a monarch gets to say yes or no to an election, but it's clear that this is about following time-honored ritual; assent was never in doubt. Still, I couldn't help wondering, what if she had said no.)

Now the candidates of the major parties are spending their days making media appearances, issuing policy statements and rebuttals, and preparing for unprecedented televised debates among the top three candidates for prime minister: the incumbent Labour leader Gordon Brown, Conservative leader David Cameron, and Liberal-Democrat leader Nick Clegg. Yes, unprecedented: heretofore, the British public has not been treated to these high-profile televised bouts, which have been a fixture in the US since the 1960s (and also more recently in other European countries). At the very least, the debates add excitement to the contest, especially for journalists.

The big issues of the campaign would be familiar to Americans - how to bring the economy out of recession (clearly #1), handle the war in Afghanistan, control immigration, and cut back government spending on public services while improving the same services. Voters do not seem to be strongly convinced that any of the political parties has workable solutions. Many observers predict a "hung parliament" - that is, no party will gain enough parliamentary seats to form a government on its own.

Meanwhile, journalists deplore the increased "Americanization" of political campaigns, meaning a focus on the personalities of the prime ministerial candidates, even as many of the same journalists are happily writing about the personalities of the candidates (and of their wives). On the financial side the campaigns remain distinctly modest, un-American affairs. By law, no party can spend more than £18 million (about $27 million) during the run-up to the election to support its national policies and candidate for prime minister.

Shorter, less expensive national election campaigns certainly have their appeal to this American who worries especially about the influence of massive fundraising on US politics. At the same time, I realize that connecting directly with voters is somewhat easier in the UK, which has one-fifth the US population and about one-37th of its land area. I'd still like to see a ceiling on US presidential campaign costs - how about five times the $27 million to accommodate the population difference with the UK? In Britain this month, I see no evidence that democracy is suffering from such a constraint.


A ceiling on US presidential campaign costs would help to some extent in creating a fairer system. It would give some hope to smaller parties who are currently prevented from standing any chance in politics simply because they cannot afford it. However, despite the ceiling on costs in the UK the political scene is still dominated by the 3 main political parties and that hasn't changed in over 65 years. Even other parties who spend the same amount of money in campaigning cannot break through and this was highly evident in last week's election - the number of seats won by the smallest parties went down.Tradition is a far greater commodity than money spent in a political campaign. As to the Queen - she wouldn't say no the new Prime Minister David Cameron because, according to Wikipedia (a reliable source :-)), they are distant relatives.

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