Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Big Society (1)

Surprising as it may be to some of my colleagues here on the Right, Localism wasn't invented by Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell when they published 'The Plan' in 2008. Nor was it invented by Alan Milburn in 2004, when he delivered a speech on the subject to Demos, nor by Simon Jenkins when he published his seminal paper for Policy Exchange (Chairman: Michael Gove) and Localis at the same time. Nor by Helena Kennedy and the 'Power' enquiry in 2006. Now we are to have a Localism Act, with the Bill scheduled for presentation to Parliament in early 2011 by Eric Pickles' department.

Already there are worrying signs that Cameron's government's actions just aren't matching the rhetoric on Localism, and I think I know why.

There is one subject that brings Cameron out in night-sweats, fearful at the terror as he jerks awake in the early hours - that of local government reorganisation. It's seen as a morass, a quagmire, and embarking on that reform road is as fateful as invading Russia and as equally doomed to failure. The complexity, the demands on Parliamentary time, and above all the one issue that the entire cabinet would willingly run naked through the Durham Miners' gala being thrashed by giant nettles to avoid, that of the reform of local government finance.

So Cameron is trying to implement a version of Localism Lite that doesn't actually involve any democratic reform. The danger is that this won't alter any of the balance of power either. Smaller government isn't the same as less powerful government nor the same as a more democratic society, as Philip Johnston points out in today's Telegraph.

The clue lies in the subtitle of Simon Jenkins' paper - 'A rescue plan for British democracy'. And it's not just about who runs the village hall, but about fundamental political reform. I'm going to split the latter issue into a second post to follow immediately.

1 comment:

Budgie said...

"There is one subject that brings Cameron out in night-sweats, fearful at the terror as he jerks awake in the early hours ..."

There must be two then because he has the same reaction to the subject of the EU.