More BLACK MAGIC from Ms Caroline Spell-person, Conservatory spokesperson for turning local councillors into eunuchs, with her plan to "give more power to local government" by, er, taking their powers away and giving them to mayors.
This promises to do the OPPOSITE of what it says on the tin.
The proposal to increase accountability will actually DILUTE it; the promise to return power to people will really move power IN to a new centre that is less representative and more remote; the plan to free local government from central government control will, in reality, SHACKLE local councils even further.
In short: a perfect example of how the Conservatories have adopted Hard Labour SPIN techniques (aka Newspeak).
First, accountability: where you might have three councillors representing one ward, a mayor represents the whole borough, town or even city – it's difficult to see how one mayor would have as much time for each constituent as a score of councillors. And the London Mayor has shown how totally unaccountable he can be, with Hard Labour's Mayor Ken and now Bojo the Clown cheerfully batting aside or laughing off any attempt to question them or their various cronies who have come under suspicion of corruption, racism or old-fashioned incompetence.
Second, representation: a mayor (no offence to Ms Dorothy) is LESS representative of the community not more, because there can only ever be ONE WINNER. There's no way of having a PROPORTION of Bojo the Clown be Liberal while the rest is Conservatory (Red or Blue flavour). We've seen from London that even the BEST Liberal voices are shut out of the mayoral contest, and we're the THIRD BIGGEST party in the country – supporters of (No)Respect, UKPnuts or the Natural Law Party have ZERO chance of having their voices heard at local government level.
Of course, what the Conservatories have seen is that there are big benefits – TO THEM – in a winner-takes-all election, particularly one with such a huge electorate that their money can buy a significant strategic advantage. It pretty much guarantees that they or their identical twins the Red Conservatories of Hard Labour will be in. It's a step backwards to the old cosy consensus of two-party politics that has does so much to leave Great Britain in an economic DARK AGE.
The completely selfish attitude of the Conservatories was exposed most nakedly by Ms Spell-person herself on the The Today Programme, when she was asked why the change of heart from Queen Maggie's policy in the '80's of centralising every local government power she could.
"You've got to understand, the landscape of Local Government has completely changed: back in the Eighties there were far too many Loony Left Councils; nowadays WE control two-thirds of them."So, er, you give the powers to Councils so long as the "nice people" are back in charge… and presumably take them away again if anyone else gets in!
And of course, because all their power has been taken away, local council elections now reflect the national political scene more than local issues – so the Conservatories control of councils is less about whether or not they are value for money (they aren't) and more a reaction to the fact we have a Hard Labour Government nationally.
But third, what about the MONEY? Mr Balloon says he wants to give people a referendum on the Council Tax if the rise is more than 5%. He says this will make Councils more responsive to people. But that's just not true.
I mean, on a superficial level, it will put them in fear of MISERS, certainly, but what about people who want the Council to SPEND MORE on meals-on-wheels, or lollipop ladies, or places for kids to hang out that aren't street corners, or health visitors or just filling in potholes in the pavement? Will they get to call a referendum if the Council Tax is too low? Clearly not.
But the REAL stealth tax here is that the BIGGEST CAUSE of Council Tax increases is… Central Government giving the council a low rise in its grant. With 75% of Local Government money in the gift of Whitehall – not to mention all the things that local government has to pay for but has no control over, like nationally agreed teachers salaries – all it takes is for a minister to make a small cut and the council is over a barrel.
Suppose we actually had inflation of 2%, the Bank of England's Government-set target (and remember it's higher for wages than goods, and that even as the recession bites it's still only fallen to 3% this month). Cutting the increase in central government grant from a raise of 2% to 1% means the local council has to put up the Council Tax by a whopping 5% just to stand still, and instantly put them in the "referendum DANGER ZONE"!
And we already know that the Conservatories plan to use this stick to control local councils. Mr Oboe's so-called FREEZE on Council Tax, a policy that will rewards Councils that are "good" (i.e. do exactly what they are told by CENTRAL GOVERNMENT) and penalises anyone who dares to do differently.
Other aspects of the new Conservatory wheeze include:
- Encouraging NIMBY-ism by abolishing regional planning (while, presumably, still retaining central Government's SHINY new QUANGO with powers to bulldoze anything they fancy)
- Giving local authorities the power to levy a business rate discount (how do you LEVY a DISCOUNT???), another example of only giving Councils the power to take less in tax; why not just let them control the business rate full stop?
- Requiring Councils to publish details of "perks and expenses" online – so this week Mr Balloon is in favour of openness about how the public money is spent… oh the IRONY of Westminster telling local government it should reveal it's expenses!
Giving Councils control of a FAIR local income tax, with the ability to adjust the rates themselves as they choose; returning control of business rates to local council control; allowing councils to share in the benefits of granting planning applications and rezoning decisions; putting the money back in the hands of real people, not some TV personality that you've parachuted in with his team of faceless, unaccountable "advisors" who really run the show… THESE are the ways that you return power to local government. Putting local schools and local health care back in the hands of local people, THESE are the ways that you restore communities and empower people.
Obviously these are LIBERAL DEMOCRAT ideas.