Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers Alliance says the turning cabinet meetings into a travelling circus is not true localism but just leaves a hefty policing bill for those with a visit inflicted on them.
It is commonplace now for politicians of all the main parties to claim to be localists. Unfortunately, all too often they seem to be paying lip service to the concept because it sounds good rather than actually pursuing it in practice because it is a better way to run the State.
One good example of this trend this week was the Cabinet meeting in Liverpool. This, the Government were keen to repeat, was only the third time such a meeting had been held outside London or Chequers in
the last 90 years, and was meant to be a demonstration of their commitment to listening to the concerns of real people around the country – proof that they don’t believe in top-down administration or centralised government, but in localised government.
Unfortunately, it was a PR exercise rather than a real effort in passing power down from politicians to the people. The list of people the Cabinet met has yet to be published and the only one so far revealed is "the head of Michelin tyres", whom Hazel Blears claimed to have given a glowing review of the Government’s efforts. If the rest of the 200 – presumably hand-picked – guests are typical of that it hardly sounds as though the Cabinet were confronted with the real concerns of ordinary people.
The only impact of the meeting on the vast majority of the people of
Liverpool is that the bill for hosting the meeting is £200,000 to local
While the Government are talking about local concerns and
accountability, the reality of their policies continues to be
centralising. As I said to Hazel Blears in a radio debate on Thursday,
if they are so bothered about giving people real power, why only a
month ago did they ditch their plans to allow us to elect local Police
Despite their lip service to localism, they are leaning so hard on
local authorities to adopt their unfair bin tax proposals that Eric
Pickles this week felt the need to write to all Conservative
Councillors to encourage them to resist. It’s an absurd situation that
a Government which claims to be localist is attempting to entice and
force councils to change their waste collection policies in order to
fit Whitehall’s (and indeed Brussels’) demands.
Localism is not an easy leap for politicians to make – it by definition
involves allowing local councils to do things the Government or the
leadership of a Party does not like. In the case of the current
Government, that means they should stop trying to bully councils into
adopting these bin taxes. By the same token, individual councils under
a Conservative Government should be free to do things that the
Government might not like, as long as the policies are explicitly
supported by local people.
Turning Cabinet meetings into a travelling circus is not localism, it
is a PR stunt. Visiting a locality under heavy security to meet a small
group of carefully chosen people is a world away from giving everyone
in that area the right to actually vote on how their money is spent and
how their services are run. Until that distinction is understood and a
Government – this one or another – changes its behaviour accordingly,
"localism" will continue to feel like a buzzword, not a policy.