Posted by: secretperson | April 28, 2008

Local Elections – Pointless Without Localism

Dan Hannan writes a blog post here on why we won’t be voting in the local elections. With turnouts at around 35% there is clear apathy. This is because government decisions are too centralised, 75% of council’s money comes from Whitehall, and decisions are influenced by a string of targets. People care about local issues, but recognise that local councillors have little effect on these issues.

Hannan is a member of Direct Democracy a Tory body supporting localism, which includes some younger shadow cabinet members such as Michael Gove. These Tories might win my vote, but there is no sign that Cameron’s leadership supports localist policies.

The principle is simple. Local policies to be decided at a local level. More fiscal independence. Then people would get out and vote, talk to their local councillors who understand the needs of the area better than any one-size-fits-all Whitehall apparatchik or quangocrat. Individual schools and hospitals need more freedom, but even things such as admissions and shared ambulance services, for example, could be decided on a more local level. NHS trusts and LEAs are already organised at county level, free these bodies to make the decisions responsible to local voters.

This would lead to a postcode lottery of course, which is a downside, but if people in the next county were getting a better service, the competetive aspect should raise your own counties game, come next election. There should be some levelling effect, and a postcode lottery is not really a lottery if you get some choice in what different policies exist.

Of course this should all happen within the framework of a sovereign English parliament. The regionalists, so set on their 5 million size regions to avoid centralisation, will argue that they have the answer (conveniently the same one the EU has reached), but geographical closeness of the centralised government is not real localism. Devolved power should be a step further down the chain, to a practical level for everyday services. MPs committees and counties working together could make decisions on the few aspects of policy, such as transport, in which a ‘regional size’ body may be useful, with the added flexibility of non-fixed borders, and with less expense than quangos.

Of course, this would be a radical departure for our politicians. The idea that ‘something must be done’ and done by Westminster is entrenched in our political culture. New Labour are firmly wedded to the nanny state and a raft of central government regulation on every aspect of the decisions, of both the individual and local bodies. The EU of course feel the same way, on a larger scale, and trying to do it all behind closed doors. The Conservatives occassionally talk as though they have the right instincts, and seem to have a group of young, EUsceptic and localist members who I could get behind, but have no concrete policies on this.

So all in all I am not very hopeful. But politicians should not be surprised when the local election turnout is low, and when it is seen as a referendum on national issues.



  1. Considering that politicians are just about the least trusted profession, it’s no wonder turnout is so low. What’s more important – and because of this, denied – is the ability to vote on policy.

    Note the Tory role in centralising government though. Recall in the 1980s the struggles against Labour councis over ratecapping. I’m sure New Labour would have done much the same, mind. When the devolution of powers to national parliaments in Scotland and Wales took place, they knew both would be Labour-dominated, and thus not a threat to the Party or the status quo.

    The thing about regionalisation is this – and I imagine you’d agree – I would not object to the establishment of directly-elected regional assemblies ithin the context of an English parliament and if England was outside of the EU.

    We’re in a catch-22 situation with regards an English parliament. Until there is a discretely English national politics, the profile of the campaign for an English parliament will remain low. But without an English parliament, it isn’t easy to develop a discretely English politics, separate from the UK parliament at Westminster and the regionalisation agenda.

  2. “The regionalists, so set on their 5 million size regions to avoid centralisation, will argue that they have the answer (conveniently the same one the EU has reached), but geographical closeness of the centralised government is not real localism. ”

    Hang on! Wales is barely half the 5m rule and Northern Ireland a quarter!

    It looks like the system in the UK has failed already, unless of course the only concern was to preserve the nation at all costs.

    If so, England will have some of that too, ta very much!

  3. Thanks Charlie and Terry.

    Apart from the issue of them replacing, rather than complementing, an English parliament, my objection to regions is they just don’t seem that practical. I don’t see the benefits of entities of that size compared to a more local system.

    Under a sovereign parliament decided on grounds of national identity, as was done for Wales and Scotland.

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