Friday, 24 April 2009
'The party's over' - but who will tell the ravers?
When Tony Crosland told local government in 1974 'The party's over' he took away the drinks and squeakers and turned out the lights lest there be any doubt he was serious. But partygoers are hard creatures to shift; in practice, they moved their party elsewhere, taking the Watney's Party Sevens with them (younger readers will not get this; a party seven was good reason in the '70s to carry a screwdriver and hammer with you in public).
It was Crosland's attempts to curb the excesses of local councils that led directly to Thatcher's emasculation of local governance from 1979; it was Crosland who started the move to State centralism that Thatcher built on in her battle with the loony left in the town halls. And from 1997 Labour have entrenched a Leviathan central State. The partygoers had just moved from town hall to Whitehall.
Local parks are a barometer of this shift. Older readers will remember when they had park keepers, rose beds, spectacular annual bedding displays, clean toilets and were places where parents could send unaccompanied children in the knowledge that they would be safe. This was before 1974. The spending cuts and the measures required by the IMF fell first on non-statutory local services such as parks. Today those local parks are sterile and barren expanses of turf 'n trees, with no dedicated staff, maintainable with a tractor and gang-mower, the toilets and tea kiosk boarded up or demolished, and crack-foil in the overgrown bushes.
Yet Whitehall has grown fatter and sleeker; a multiplicity of quangos, the breeding of a new species of on-message simpatico highly paid executives who seem to do no more than attend meetings and write reports to eachother.
And guess where all the cuts will fall this time? Yep, on stuff like local parks again. Local services that have the maximum negative impact will be targeted as proof that it's hurting. But the hidden, do-nothing world of Whitehall and quango insiders will continue untouched - for these are Labour's fifth column, a socialist Trojan Horse planted deep inside our public administration to foil and frustrate future reform.
Only a big-bang devolution of power from central to local has a hope of realigning our public services with the expectations of those that pay for them. Locally, no-one would vote for spending a million on a safe-drinking outreach and publicity unit if they could spend the same million on putting park keepers back in their local parks. The mismatch between real public priorities and the lunatic fads and whims of Labour's embedded public management culture has never been greater. And the need for real local democratic control and the smashing of Whitehall's target and command culture has never been more urgent.