However, the deep irony is that although they all have the theme of returning power to the people, on the finance side, nothing changes. Indeed, it is possible to argue that the Tory plans to freeze council tax are evidence of more centralising. In effect they stop local councils from doing what they might want to do.It had a clear ring of a truth that can't be denied. Simon Jenkins, Localism guru, says much the same thing in this morning's Guardian:
Perhaps it's a circle which can never be squared until there is a wholesale reform of local government finance. But I can't see that happening even in the medium term. All political parties have filed it in the 'Too Difficult' tray.
The Tory leader has set his face firmly against the fiscal discretion available elsewhere in Europe. Like Brown, he trusts electors to pass judgment on national taxes, but not local ones. Nor will he contemplate reforming local government to give councils access to a buoyant revenue source, such as a share of income or business tax. Cameron's gimmick is from the fiscal dark ages.
Cameron confronts a government whose central institutions are more dysfunctional than for over a century. Not a week passes without some revelation of the dire state of Whitehall, of reckless freebies, mad-cap computer purchases, bonuses, revolving-door consultancies and utter waste of public money.
The Tories seem hardly to care. Earlier this month Cameron's colleagues agreed not to mention the home secretary's expenses fiddle for fear she might reveal theirs. Meanwhile they wish to keep in place draconian controls on a tier of government that, by every audited measure, is more efficient and less wasteful than Whitehall.
And all this is also true. But I retain a bounce in my step and keep hope alive in my heart and here's for why.
The fact that all three of the old parties - all, in their way, committed to central Statism, even the Lib Dems who want to be wholly State funded - feel compelled to make Localism noises tells me that they recognise the growing public dissatisfaction with total political control from Whitehall in a cosy relationship with central party HQs. All of them realise that their parties are dying, with no hope of revival from the centre alone, with State funding an impossible option for two or three years at least, and faced with the dire prospect of their combined memberships falling below 1% of the electorate over the same time period.
All of them recognise that the only hope of party revival is from the grass roots, from the local, yet none of them can yet bear to take the steps necessary to make this happen. And these steps include a true devolution of power from the centre, local control over tax and spend as well as service standards and the blossoming of a thousand flowers as local political associations drive policy development.
The deeper and more painful the recession, the more likely is radical political change. Either towards entrenched central authoritarianism, or towards increased local autonomy. Or possibly towards both at the same time. Either way, there are exciting opportunities for Localists as the wheel of change turns - and a growing will to seize them.