Next up from the Harrogate Conference is the critical issue of local government. I can't disagree with a word of Richard North's analysis of the problem and suggested solutions. I'd add by way of illustration that in Switzerland the Communes, the lowest tier of government, account for 30% of autonomous expenditure, with the cantons accounting for a further 40% and the Swiss State commanding only 30% of government expenditure. In the UK only Council Tax is levied and applied locally - and its £25bn a year is just 5% of the UK tax take, the other 95% being levied directly by central government. Since Council tax is in practice set by the government, it's also true to say that 100% of UK taxes are determined centrally. This is the most appalling state of affairs.
For the scale of our democratic deficit at local level, and if you haven't done so already, please read Simon Jenkins' Big Bang Localism - and weep for Cameron's missed chances to make a difference. We have a mandarinate that set up emergency central power in the last war, and have refused to devolve it back ever since. They sabotaged Localism for this government, and I often have the feeling that until we strangle the last Permanent Secretary with the intestines of the last Local Government Minister we won't see change.
The services that should be autonomously run at County or City level are manifold - health, education, highways - but so too are services that should be designed and delivered even more locally, at the level of the Parish. We need far fewer professional politicians and far more ordinary people in local government.
And yes, let's look at Newham and Tower Hamlets. Corrupt, nepotistic and as sleazy as any Pakistani village. Ha! Imagine giving them even more power - imagine allowing them to get their hands on taxes - imagine London Boroughs run by Sharia Law, say the critics of Localism. And this is a moot point. In fact I think that they are taking advantage of the present democratic deficit, and that devolving even more power to the Parishes in those boroughs will cure the ill. We would end up with a few utterly corrupt parishes, from which people and firms would vote with their feet and move. Property values in those parishes would collapse, taxes would dry up and the system would correct itself.