Archive for August 11, 2011

Whither Local Government?

August 11, 2011

A friendly disagreement

Simon Jenkins is a well known fan of elected mayors and of devolving more power to local areas. It is therefore not particularly surprising that his response to the recent riots was as follows:

In this crisis, our cities need local leaders with real power. The vacuum of authority below our centralised state leaves the police with the impossible task of keeping order alone

Jenkins’s argument is that the over centralised state has left local government enfeebled and thus totally reliant on leadership from central Government. In his most provactive paragraph Jenkins argues:

At a time of crisis the TV stage is taken by a police officer and central government minister. Councils are run by enfeebled party machines and their “leaders” are politicians whose means of selection and election gives first loyalty to party rather than community. They feel no obligation to public leadership. Suggest to a council leader that he stand for direct election without the carapace of party, and he shudders at the thought. These figureheads are mere agents, factotums, of central government.

Normally, I would be in agreement with Jenkins’ argument. I too believe that local government needs to have more powers, take a greater role in the local community and generally be more independent from central Government.

However, I think Mr Jenkins may have gone too far.

Local Government has, in my mind, actually performed well in this crisis. Ask around local authorities and you will hear plenty of stories of Borough commanders liaising with the leader (or locally elected mayor) of their council. Both groups recognise that we can’t address these problems in isolation and been quick to work together.