Localism and baseball
One of my stranger afflictions is an interest in baseball; described by many British people as glorified rounders.
Baseball is a summer sport in the USA and therefore the winter months are spent speculating over where the best players will end up playing next year. This year the best of the bunch was a pitcher by the name of Cliff Lee. In cricketing terms he is Mitchell Johnson, left handed and very good. However, baseball is not cricket and Mr Lee was being offered a lot of money to play baseball for the next 5-7 years.
During the negotiations the press had no idea where he would sign but with column inches to fill started to speculate on all sorts of factors that might influence his decision. One rather interesting theory caught my attention. The theory was that Mr Lee would end up in Texas rather than signing with the New York Yankees due to the lower income tax rates in Texas.
I’m not much of an expert on American State government but given that Hilary Clinton was the Senator for New York and George W Bush the Governor of Texas it is fair to take a shot that Texas is a slightly more conservative place that believes in low taxes and limited Government and that New York prefers a slightly more extensive Government and higher taxes. It is also not a great jump to guess that the voters of these states have voted consistently for politicians who share their beliefs and that the stance of the respective governments of each State is directly reflective of the wishes of the electorate.
Now, that is localism!
Would the UK ever be comfortable with this sort of localism? Well, we’re already starting to get a glimpse of what it might look like. In recent weeks the Scottish and Welsh Governments have been trying to work out their own approach to tuition fees. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1339386/Scotland-raise-tuition-fees–English.html) The response has been slightly outraged (see the Daily Mail article linked to above) but so far pretty muted. In other moves the Scottish Government might be given the right to set its own income tax rates; Scotland could become a low tax rival to England or Wales or alternatively a high tax society similar to Sweden or Norway. In theory Northern Ireland and Wales could, with time, become alternatives to England.
I might be simplifying things a little but localism can only really be achieved when there is real difference to be offered between the different areas. Otherwise, there is no real incentive to change anything and no way for those voting to make a change to the policies of their local governments.
That real difference is sadly probably linked to taxation and the way services are funded.
If this is right then the Localism Bill, introduced last week, will do nothing relatively little for localism. Meanwhile, and by stealth, the best chance for those who campaign for real local powers is devolution and the Governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
More discussion of this topic will follow in the new year.
For those wondering how the story ends, Cliff Lee confounded everyone’s expectations and signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for roughly $120 million over 5 years: he turned down more money from the Texas Rangers and the New York Yankees proving that there is more to life than money or income tax rates (a stance that is easier to take when one is earning $750,000 for every game pitched).