Monday, September 25, 2006

New localism

The theme of the week seems to be 'devolving power to communities' So far I've heard Hazel Blears telling people about the need to 'empower local people', Ruth Kelly saying we need 'doorstep devolution', and Gordon Brown on Today saying we need to devolve power from 'Central Government to local communities'.

It all sounds very fine, doesn't it. But what does it mean? What I suspect it means is finding a way to take power away from local authorities. Empowering who then? Who or what are 'local people'? It's a stupid, meaningless phrase and one of the sorts of cliches that endlessly drips from David Cameron's tongue. Every local councillor knows about the self-appointed 'local activist' or 'voice of the people'. There is even one in my Ward who has given himself the OBE and signs his corespondence with this fictional award after his name. Self-appointed, unelected, unaccountable. By and large, they are unelectable... and hence their attraction to the Blairites. Like Thatcher, who wiped out a whole tier of local government because it wouldn't do as she commanded, the Blairites talk the talk on democracy... but they don't walk the walk. If someone else can claim a democratic mandate, it threatens theirs. Watch out for the Local Government Bill in the autumn and the Lyons report shortly after... and when you hear people talk of 'empowering local people' ask them the five questions!