Few regard themselves as being against localism. But that is often because their definition of it tends to mean shifting power to them. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, and Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, are all for further devolution from Westminster to them. But all sorts of “practical difficulties” emerge if a suggestion is to put forward to devolve power from Holyrood to Aberdeen Council. Or from Cardiff Bay to Conwy. Metro Mayors are all for greater “strategic” powers – which they feel would not be quite viable to pass down to local government structures. On it goes.
During the era of Eric Pickles at the Department for Communities and Local Government, there was some dismay from council leaders that “localism” could mean empowering communities and individual citizens, making town hall officials more accountable. The requirement for a Council Tax referendum – if an increase above a certain threshold was proposed – has proved effective. Another important area is in planning – where so often the design preferences of the Council’s planning officers are at odds with the preference most of us have for beautiful buildings. So “neighbourhood planning” has started to give people a genuine say and much more is being done in this respect.
Robert Jenrick, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, is now proposing to grant protection to local people against the agitprop excesses of their municipal leaders. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph he says:
“Latterly there has been an attempt to impose a single, often negative narrative which not so much recalls our national story, as seeks to erase part of it. This has been done at the hand of the flash mob, or by the decree of a “cultural committee” of town hall militants and woke worthies. We live in a country that believes in the rule of law, but when it comes to protecting our heritage, due process has been overridden. That can’t be right. Local people should have the chance to be consulted whether a monument should stand or not. What has stood for generations should be considered thoughtfully, not removed on a whim or at the behest of a baying mob.”
“Lambeth Council has suggested that Nelson’s Row may need to be re-named and campaigners have set their sights on Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
“Labour’s support for this attack on our past is not a relic of the days of Jeremy Corbyn. It’s happening under Labour councils and mayors across the country now, personally encouraged by Keir Starmer, his Shadow Cabinet and Local Government Association Labour Group. Not content with ripping down heritage, Labour in London has raised the prospect of removing tombs of those who are now seen as “offenders” – literally digging up the dead.
“Street names are also in their sights. Labour-run Birmingham City Council has already banned new streets being named after historic figures, in place of the anodyne “Diversity Grove” and “Humanity Close”. Residents face the inconvenience (and embarrassment) of their addresses being forcibly changed.”
So the rules are to change:
“Proper process will now be required. Any decisions to remove these heritage assets will require planning permission and councils will need to do so in accordance with their constitution, after consultation with the local community.
“Where that does not happen, I will not hesitate to use my powers as Secretary of State in relation to applications and appeals involving historic monuments where such action is necessary to reflect the Government’s planning policies. Our view will be set out in law, that such monuments are almost always best explained and contextualised, not taken and hidden away.”
A news report adds, regarding changing street names:
“One idea is only to allow a name change if a “super majority” of households in the street is in favour.”
This seems to me a very sensible mechanism to put a check on “woke” indulgences. Sham consultations are not enough. A proper people’s veto will be provided. It’s not taking power up from Lambeth Council to Whitehall. It is passing it down from Lambeth Council to Nelson’s Row, SW4. I suppose some will still argue it is an attack on “local democracy”. That the downtrodden inhabitants of Nelson’s Row should have to put up with the popular will across the borough as a whole. But most reasonable people will conclude that residents in a street should not have its name changed against their wishes. And it follows that if a “super” majority of them really do want a change, then Lambeth Council should not be blocked from allowing it. It will be for them to decide. When they are asked, England expects that the residents of Nelson’s Row will do their patriotic duty.