Posted tagged ‘localism’

Are you a localist or a municipalist?

April 21, 2011

And you thought a post about localism and municipalism was dull!

On Newsnight last week, in between Gavin Estler and his research staff being skewered by Eric Pickles, Mr Pickles got into an interesting debate with the Deputy Leader of Nottingham council.

The Deputy Leader was arguing that the council should be allowed to NOT publish details of all expenses over £500 as it was a local decision. The implication was that by Mr Pickles demanding this of local authorities he was not being particularly localist.

Indeed, this is something we on this blog have often accused my Pickles of.

The response from Mr Pickles was fascinating. He didn’t make an argument based on the importance of open data but rather said something along the lines of: ‘Localism is not about giving power to councillors; it’s about passing power straight to the people’.

In effect Mr Pickles cast the deputy leader of Nottingham council as a municipalist, someone who believes power should sits with local government, rather than a localist who believes in giving power to local people.

This provided a good sound-bite and neatly quietened the deputy leader but I am deeply curious as to what the logical end point of this philosophy will actually be.

Firstly, if Mr Pickles is a true localist then what does that make him? Fair enough that Nottingham Council should not be all powerful but surely a localist would not want any interference from central Government at all? Or does Mr Pickles see himself as something akin to the guardian of localism; acting in the ‘best interest’ of the population who seem not to know better when they go to the ballot box?

Secondly, what role does this leave for local government? If central government is the guardian of localism does that make local government the enemy of localism? Surely, it makes more sense for the local councils to be the guardians of localism as they are closer to it?

Finally, what role does this leave for representative democracy? If localism does not mean elections and representation at the local level how are the actions of local people to gain legitimacy if not through elections? Surely, Mr Pickles can’t be the guardian of all localist ideas at a local level but if local government is not to provide legitimacy or to mediate between competing ideals then who will?

This all leaves local government with a massive challenge. If Mr Pickles is to be taken at face value then localism probably will not mean more powers for local government whilst also asking it to develop a new relationship with local people. If local government fails to meet that challenge would the end point be irrelevance?

The ghost of the postcode lottery

February 16, 2011

For health read all public services

Localism is probably the most debated concept within the new Government’s lexicon; if only because it is superficially easier to understand than the ‘Big Society’.

In effect the debate about localism is part of a very old debate about what is the most appropriate level of Government for decisions to be made.

At one end of the spectrum are the communists who would hold that all decisions that could affect the people should be made centrally. This (theoretically) ensures that all decisions made are done so in the best interests of all the people and that (ill-defined) fairness extends throughout the land. At the other end of the spectrum is a rampant form of libertarianism or anarchism where every man is free to act in their own self interest at all times.

Squaring the circle of exactly where this balance should fall has been a challenge for thinkers down the ages. Most of the time the solution is simply an unspoken compromise.

However, the European Union (beloved of formalising it’s rules has formally adopted the concept of subsidiarity; which in turn has been borrowed from Catholic Social Teaching.

To quote Wikipedia, subsidiarity is:

Is an organising principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.

But subsidiarity does not necessarily solve all our problems, especially in a country as small and centralised as the UK.