Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Iain Dale and Simon Jenkins on Localism green paper

As much as I would wish it wasn't the case, when Iain Dale wrote yesterday
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.

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.
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:
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.

4 comments:

Newmania said...

What would be done about regional inequalities R , what about minorities who disagree in localities .
Do you really want Enver Hodge running a statelet in Islingotn again ? Would you let a town council run defence ? Naaa, Then why anything else ?

DBC Reed said...

The thought of local politicians getting any real power is alarming.
There just is n't the talent at this level.I would claim to understand the world economic system better than I could ever understand politics in my home town which seems blackly Machiavellian ,trivial and buffoonish by turns.

it's either banned or compulsory said...

DBC perhaps the reason that local politicians are so low grade is because they have no power to do anything other than what salaried officials tell them they are allowed to do.

DBC Reed said...

It would be an improvement if salaried officials did determine policy.
At the moment they hire in Consultants basically to do what they should be doing.Then when it goes wrong, as it invariably does ,they say its not our fault, the elected representatives chose to go with the consulants' report.
I seem to remember the era of consultants started as a right-wing idea to afford local government the benefits of business expertise.
People work such long hours and have so many home commitments that not many have the time for local politics, except for the largely unemployable fruitcase contingent. Joseph Chamberlain retired from Nettlefolds with a fortune at the age of 30 in order to devote himself to Birmingham municipal politics.