Mark Wallace of the Taxpayers Alliance says the hostile response to localism from some on the Left relects their disdain for the ordinary citizen
At last we have started to hear more about what the parties believe localism actually means. With the manifesto launches, a variety of policies have been laid out (from several parties) that have the
potential to drastically improve the power of ordinary people in modern Britain.
In the past, all three main parties have described themselves as localist, but this has rarely been reflected in actual policies. This election is the first where the seeds of localism sown by Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan’s Direct Democracy group, the Orange Book Lib Dems and others have sprouted into seedlings and started to force their way through up through the soil. It is particularly encouraging to see localism properly interpreted – with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in particular crying “power to the people”, not just “power to town halls”.
Whether you look at directly elected police authorities, free schools, the power of recall over MPs, petitions to force referenda, Google Government or any one of a dozen other ideas, it is clear that localism is starting to gain ground.
It is telling to see these ideas come to the fore, but most revealing of all was the reaction of the big state dinosaurs to such new thinking.
Remarkably, their critique of localism seems to be that the people should not be troubled by the hassle of democracy, in case it is too much for them to handle.
This is remarkable because of the hypocrisy involved. A century ago, opponents of female suffrage were arguing that the vote was simply too big a responsibility for “little ladies”, that it was a great big bother that they were simply not capable of dealing with.
It is amazing that self-proclaimed “progressives” are now employing that very same argument, but now they apply it to the whole population rather than simply to one gender. Every voter in the land is to be patted on the hand, like a Victorian wife, and told “don’t worry your pretty little head about it”.
Here are a few examples.
Almost immediately after the Conservative manifesto launch, John Prescott promoteda spoof poster in response to the Conservative’s “big society” proposals. The poster, which according to Prezza “nails the Tory manifesto” featured a photo of David Cameron read “Work. Dishes. Now he wants you to run the school and hospital as well. What exactly will he be doing?” The message is clear: instead of control over your own health or the education of your child, what you really need is someone like John Prescott to make all of your difficult decisions for you – after all, that’s worked out really well in the past.
The same day, UNISON sent out a press release in which their General Secretary Dave Prentis slammed localism, saying: “The Tories are too weak to govern this country, so their answer is to abdicate responsibility.” Leaving aside the echoes of strongman worship which led so much of the Left to lionise Stalin, again there is a clear assumption that the “responsibility” of any decent politician is to disenfranchise the people and leave them with the things they can cope with like Britain’s Got Talent and the latest Kerry Katona update.
Former Downing Street adviser James Plunkett started off a little better over at Comment is Free writing that “as progressives…we should welcome more direct democracy”. Sadly, he then proceeded to rubbish the idea on the basis that voters would either choose “regressive” things like low taxes, or stupidly prevent politicians from saving us all with their massive brains and boundless beneficence.
This is an unmistakable phenomenon, recognisable from numerous crucial transfers of power throughout history. Any student of the struggle for universal suffrage, the French Revolution, the American War of
Independence, the campaign for Indian independence or the English Civil War would spot it. It is the arrogance of an elite who seek to justify the preservation of their own high status by talking down the
abilities of ordinary people.
The dismissive retorts quoted above are essentially the same as those given to the woman of Edwardian England, the Indians of the Raj, the Americans of Washington’s day and the soldiers of the New Model Army. All of them were told by powerful, privileged people that they were too stupid, too savage, too hysterical or just too darn poor to be capable of controlling their own lives.
And make no mistake, the big state opponents of localism are privileged. Whether it’s Prescott (set to waltz into the House of Lords after a life largely spent living it up in the Commons), Prentis (sitting pretty on a taxpayer-subsidised £127,000 a year) or Plunkett (having moved on from the rarified environment of Downing Street to the mean streets of, erm, Harvard University) they are a glittering court of vested interests and ivory towers – a Versailles for the 21st century
Small wonder that such people oppose plans that would level the rights and powers of modern Britons; the last thing they want is to have to share power with any Tom, Dick or Harry. Next time you hear them, or
someone like them, denouncing the transfer of power to ordinary people, take a moment to visualise the others down the ages who have made the same case – and take heart that, eventually, they all failed
to hold back the tide.