Archive for the ‘Tories’ Category
The launch of the new Conservative green paper on Planning was buried on its launch day by Cameron and Coulson! Officially, they pulled coverage so not to detract from the battering Brown was taking over being a bully. But on reading the document I suspect that they simply did not want to draw attention to yet another document who’s aims seem like motherhood and apple pie but which, on scrutiny, reveal themselves to be something else entirely.
A long post follows!
The conference season has ended in a kind of stalemate. Maybe the polls will start to tell a different story over the next couple of weeks. But the financial crisis has drawn out the difference of the two main parties. Each Party not only has a different story to tell but they face distinctly individual challenges. What none of us can say now is that both parties are simply the same. Read the rest of this entry »
The Tories are in town and they’re everywhere. It’s all very unsettling!
Last night I was in one of Birmingham’s posher restaurants. In they came in their droves. A private party was in the back of the restaurant and, near me, every party seemed to be taken up with male delegates from the conference. George Osborne was sitting behind me. Over the road an even posher restaurant had been taken over by a defence contractor for the evening.
I’ve only ever been to a Tory conference once, to speak at an education fringe meeting. This was before ’97. What struck me this time is how much things have changed. Then obnoxious levels of behaviour and consumption seemed to be the norm. This class of Tories are more relaxed, calm or chilled even. They look like a group of people who are sure that their time has come.
On Sunday I had lunch with a journalist friend of mine who had also been with Labour last week. I reported that my mates at Labour conference had felt that it had gone well. Nonsense. He’d never been at a political conference with less energy. Everywhere he went were senior politicians willing to despair over Gordon!
My friend is a son of the left but he had no doubt where the momentum lay. He told me that there were 1,000 more delegates at this Tory conference than last. The Corporates were out in force. They’d spent one day at Labour conference just to be sure that they were noticed, but they were here in in Birmingham for the duration.
It may be that the Tories have not yet sealed the deal with the public. It may even be that their membership has fallen (see Luke’s Blog) but it would appear that business may have already decided !
You’ve got to hand it to the Tories. They’re taking their chances following Labour’s late summer collapse. Their media management is far, far, better than it was a few months ago. But their policies are not getting the scrutiny they deserve.
Today’s initiative is about local government, and more specifically the Council Tax – understandable that, as Council Tax is such an unpopular tax. Cameron’s proposal is for government to set local government spending on a three year cycle but to give local councils the opportunity to go beyond these limits by raising the Council Tax, but only if they can win a local referendum.
Make no mistake. This is no measure of decentralisation; it represents a further centralisation of government. It is a reinforcement of capping. Yet, as I sit here listening to the Today programme, I’ve yet to hear a Labour spokesperson make this point! There are two key points here.
Firstly, Cameron’s government will set three year limits on local government spending. Effectively this is done already, so no change there. I suppose, to be fair, if these limits are set in stone then there might be no sudden changes half way through the funding cycle, as can happen now. But there are no checks and balances here, no mechanism for ensuring that – once the three year budgets are set – they can’t be altered mid-stream; no government would allow this.
Secondly, there are other precedents for this kind of thing, around the world, and it is worth considering them.
In many ways the Tory proposals are very close to a system that has been introduced in Holland over the last decade or so, and introduced by a right wing system. The Dutch system works slightly differently, but it has the same effect.
At a local level in Holland any group can get together to object to the policies and programmes of their local council, and inevitably this means spending. This is done by way of local petition – a certain number of people have sign the petition and once the threshold is met a referendum takes place. In reality there is no difficulty in triggering a petition. I’m a bit out of touch here, but when I was looking at this there was no doubt that this regulation was being used to kill the spending and development plans of left leaning councils. In many ways Holland is a very centralised state and the referendum measure strengthened this.
Amsterdam has a very impressive system of local devolution. Across the city there are a range of District Councils (about the same size as one of our Parliamentary Constituencies. On top of this is a small, strategic authority that co-ordinates policies across the city. I found this a very attractive system; it seems to work well. Amsterdam’s devolution system is far better thought out, far more radical and effective, than anything that has been designed here.
The Amsterdam system was designed by Amsterdam, by a Labour party that felt that their centralised system of local government simply couldn’t deal with the diversity that you see across the city. Unlike here in the UK, Amsterdam could change its own electoral system. And so, now in Amsterdam – on local election day – citizens have two votes. The ‘local’ vote is for your member of the local District Council. A second vote – on a party list system – selects the members of the strategic authority.
I visited a number of the District Councils and found them very different to each other. Over a comparatively short time they had diversified and there was no doubt that they better reflected the communities they served than did ours over here. But there was one area of Amsterdam that this system didn’t apply to.
When the system was established there were very few people living in the central belt of Amsterdam and the so the centre – the business, retail and tourist core – was exempt; it continued to be governed by the Amsterdam authority. However, as in in many cities across Europe, residential communities have returned to the city centre. Now, the residential community has returned to inner Amsterdam.
Amsterdam’s strategic authority then decided it was time to extend the new system and to create a new District Council for the centre. The business community objected – they simply didn’t want a well organised council that reflected the views of local people. They’ve used the referendum facility to kill any attempt to introduce such a system in the centre. And their argument – every time – is based on additional cost. Ironically, the District Councils in Amsterdam have no direct fund raising powers. The Districts negotiate their budgets with the central authority. In effect they are powerful advocacy groups – and it is citizen advocacy that the devolution opponents don’t want.
Amsterdam’s visionary, local, politicians, are resigned to never being able to roll out this system across the whole city. More significantly they reckon they could never have introduced the system in the first place, if the referenda had been available at that time.
Across the whole of Holland this system has been used to stifle local innovation and development. It has put a break on local democracy.
Cameron’s system would have a similar effect, although under his system you wouldn’t even have to get the opponents together to trigger a ballot. The default position is that central government decides on local budgets. You will have to go some to argue against it.
We do need more devolution in this country. Locally empowered communities are more creative communities. Cameron’s sound bites sound radical but offer little real challenge – or threat – to those locally who would oppose change.
This silly idea would simply consolidate the centralisation in local government, re-enforcing a system that is already failing.