Holidays are coming… (with some politics thrown in)
This blog tries very hard to be apolitical. That is not to say that we are uninterested in politics, nor that we don’t discuss political issues; it’s just that we try our best to stay clear of the ‘Political’ debate between the Westminster parties. We also don’t discuss religion or work with animals or children. It’s just easier that way.
In light of this we have tried our best to treat Eric Pickles and the coalition with a sort of equanimity; taking the rough with the smooth and not getting too uppity about either. (For evidence of this see our discussion of the Audit Commission abolition and CSR and for evidence of the opposite see a guest post on the Child Benefit changes.
However, this weekend Mr Pickles has got me simply too upset to ignore. It’s not as if he was in my good books anyway; in the past week the rather talented Allister Hayman from the Local Government Chronicle revealed that the poorest Local Authorities were going to face the biggest cuts in their budget with some of the most deprived areas in Britain receiving cuts of 37%. What made it worse was that some of the richest areas in Britain were to receive increases; yes, you read that correctly, increases in the amount of money they received this year.
Then, on the radio I heard Mr Pickles blustering that the (Conservative run) Local Government Association was exaggerating the job cuts local government would be facing. If only councils were more efficient fewer jobs would be lost he argued. It seems that Mr Pickles didn’t understand that job cuts were how Local Authorities tended to find efficiencies.
Despite these acts of provocation a post discussing these acts of outrage might have been too political so I was prepared to leave it. Then came a post on the Conservative Party Blog from Mr Pickles that tipped me over the edge (thanks to @FlipChartFT for the heads up). Here are the first few paragraphs:
Councils don’t need to mask or hide this year’s Christmas festivities for fear of causing offence, Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has said today.
As the lights are turned on for Christmas all over the country, Mr Pickles urged councils to take pride in Britain’s Christian heritage; celebrating the nativity and all the traditions that have sprung up around it from tinsel and tree lights to turkey.
“We should actively celebrate the Christian basis of Christmas, and not allow politically correct Grinches to marginalise Christianity and the importance of the birth of Christ.
“The War on Christmas is over, and likes of Winterval, Winter Lights and Luminous deserve to be in the dustbin of history.
The full ‘story’ can be found here:
What made me so annoyed is that this is a massive myth. I, and my fellow bloggers have spent quite a bit of time in Local Government and at least one of us has worked in the sort of metropolitan city where the attack on Christmas (were it to come) would start. No-one we know, nor no-one anyone else knows for that matter can give one example of the attack on Christmas Mr Pickles mentions. It is simply a scare story written by newspapers every year to fill some column inches.
For the record Luminous took place (in November) as part of a light show in Luton in the early 2000s. Winterval was a 3 month long publicity campaign to bring people into Birmingham city centre in the 1990s and included celebrations of (in order): Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night, Diwali, Ramadan, Eid, Hannukah, Advent, Christmas, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve and Chinese New Year.
Eric Pickles MUST know this; he’s a Cabinet Minister and used to lead Bradford Council. He is also an intelligent man with an entire Civil Service and at least one Special Advisor behind him. It is therefore inconceivable to me that he can actually believe these myths he is spouting. This makes his outburst even more indefensible.
It seems to me that there has been a real anti Local Government tinge to Mr Pickles comments over the past 6 months. The underlying message has been ‘Local Government is really rubbish, the staff don’t work hard and quite frankly it isn’t worth a dime to this country’ and therefore I am morally obligated to cut away at will. Admittedly the same can’t be said for Greg Clark or Grant Shapps who have adopted a significantly more moderate tone and have impressed.
In addition, Mr Pickles has been willing to align himself with the worst myths of the right wing press in order to make these claims. ‘Winterval’ follows on from his attack on non-jobs, Local Government pay and the Local Government Association’s work to name but three from the past week.
This may be an intentional tactic or the product or a lazy research staff but one can’t help feeling that reverting to these sorts of attacks is simply an act of desperation from a Cabinet Minister who has found himself slightly out of his depth. Surely, a Cabinet Minister who could operate at this level wouldn’t have allowed the grant allocations favouring the richest local authorities; surely?
I liked Mr Pickles at first; cutting bureaucracy, reducing ring fences and removing idiotic indicators was a good tonic for a Local Government that needed to change. I even felt he understood Local Government.
I now feel let down and have 100% lost my faith in him to do the best for the sector.
It’s going to be a long 5 years.