Mark Wallace of the TaxPayers' Alliance suggests that candidates at next month's local government elections have good cause to raise the European Union as an issue, since an increasing number of laws and regulations emanating from Brussels affect local councils.
June 4th will see two elections: the local elections in thousands of wards across the country, and the European elections. At the moment, the two campaigns are being treated as entirely distinct from each other – understandably, given the geographical gulf between town halls and Brussels. In fact, though, the EU has a huge influence over the way local government works, and there are many opportunities to discuss both elections in the same breath.
Indeed, to neglect the cross-over between the two elections is to neglect some extremely important issues that voters feel extremely strongly about.
Predictably, some will roll their eyes and suggest this is a typical eurosceptic attempt to make everything about the EU – just the kind of politics that puts people in the real world off voting altogether. Far from it; the impact of the EU is not one of treaty technicalities, dry constitutional debate or teary eyed evocations of the Battle of Britain. It is a matter of key services on voters’ doorsteps, and of how much local government costs British taxpayers.
Three of the most emotive and important issues in the eyes of the public are both local and EU-derived: bin taxes, Post Office closures and migration.
The Government’s proposal for bin taxes, which has rightly been repeatedly rejected by the public, is a direct result of the EU’s landfill directive. The fact that the Government keeps reinventing the tax, most recently by starting to establish a series of waste quangos which will have the power to introduce bin taxes without consulting anyone, is due to the Landfill Directive’s threat to impose huge fines on Britain if we don’t meet the EU’s targets.
Similarly, Post Office closures are in practice due largely to the EU’s competition regulations. No matter what rhetoric anyone might flaunt about in front of local electorates, the Government is forbidden from giving taxpayer-funded aid to the Post Office to further subsidise its activities. Personally, I think it would be a bad idea to pour huge amounts of taxpayers’ money into the Post Office or any other fundamentally flawed company, but I do believe the British Government should be free to do so if the people demand it. At the moment, any candidate promising they can “save the Post Office” is being untruthful, unless they are willing to revoke the EU’s control of Government subsidies.
Another top priority for millions of people is the impact on public services by mass migration that the Government and many local education authorities have totally failed to prepare for. At the time of EU expansion, the Government predicted that about 16,000 migrants would move to Britain from the new member states. In reality, it was over 600,000. An underestimate on that scale – motivated by incompetence or mendacity – was bound to lead to public services becoming overburdened. Councils, Local Education Authorities and GPs’ surgeries have found themselves regularly catering for much larger populations than the Government is willing to admit actually exist.
Whilst the Government controls migration from outside the EU, we have no democratic power to decide our migration policy regarding the 450 million plus citizens of the other EU member states, as Gordon Brown found when his “British jobs for British workers” mantra backfired on him. Whether you want migration stopped, controlled or even accelerated, it is undeniable that the decision should be made democratically for ourselves rather than forced on us by Brussels, and that the Government has failed to prepare public services for the impact of that EU policy.
There are a myriad of other EU directives and regulations that impact on local councils and local residents, and the one thing they all do is cost taxpayers money. EU interference in working hours, for example, will undoubtedly hit the provision of a variety of local government services. The landfill tax mentioned above leaves councils paying fines of millions of pounds a year, and led to the absurd scenes of councils paying to stock recyclable materials in warehouses because no-one wanted to buy them, but councils couldn’t afford to throw them away.
These issues must be addressed in any local election campaign, but they cannot be properly addressed without dealing with their genesis at the EU level. In terms of its politicians, bureaucrats and sensibilities, the EU is a world away from ordinary British people and is totally out of touch with their opinions, concerns and interests. The impact of EU policies, however, is felt keenly on every doorstep and around every kitchen table in the land – bigger bills, struggling services and stealth taxes.
Councillors and would-be councillors would do well to mention where these bad ideas come from when they knock on people’s doors. For MEPs and would-be MEPs, it is an opportunity to communicate exactly how serious and costly the impact of the EU really is.