Now for LGAxit

Local government will feature in the Queen’s Speech, but is there hope of actual change? The messages are contradictory: more powers for councils, as long as they all obey central directives; more protection for the environment, but new towns must built on it.

A more fundamental change is needed: repeal the Local Government Act 1972.

Like many bands from the 1970s, the Act is a creaking parody of itself. It had an ill-starred birth, it was passed just after the Act that sent us into the European Communities.  It was knocked together hurriedly when Ted Heath was facing an election: he had unexpectedly won the 1970 election on a promise not to abolish the counties but he went on effectively to do just that. The Act was both a reaction to the Redcliffe-Maud Report, and an implementation of it. The Report was itself a reaction to changes in the 1960s. What we have today as the governing structure of modern local government is a 1970s act that was old hat even then.

The scheme of the 1972 Act did not last; before it came into effect it had to be changed, then 10 years letter Margaret Thatcher threw out one of its key planks, and ten years after that, many of its assumptions were reversed. There have been amendments and corrections, exceptions and provisos every other year since it was passed, but the 1972 Act limped on as the foundation on which stands a structure bearing almost no relation to the assumptions built into that Act.

The scheme of the Local Government Act 1972 is based on a series of assumptions including: universal two-tier government (now rare); a committee system (again, a rarity); strictly defined competences (no longer applicable); discrete employed council staff; and all to be done with paper and face-to-face meetings. On top of this have been added changes which have to be looked up in a scattering of other Acts and Regulations, joint authorities, devolved powers, mayors (whose powers have to be conferred using legal fictions because the Act does not contemplate them) and other bits held together with chewing gum and string none of which did Ted Heath’s text anticipate. It simply does not fit any more.

Even though the Act’s assumptions are all abandoned, Parliament is still forced to follow the 1970s terminology in the Act, and treat every exception to its scheme as an exception, even though there are now more exceptions than conformity.

If there is to be a radical devolution agenda, it simply does not fit the rickety frame of the 1970s.

Maybe this leftover from the age of corduroy flairs and soft-rock has been kept just because it is too complicated to work out what goes where, afraid of ‘ch-ch-changes’, but if we cannot see where the rules are, they must go.

Ted Heath’s legacy must go: the European Communities Act 1972 has been repealed by Boris, and now the Local Government Act 1972 should follow it into the bin.

A new Local Government Structure Act is needed quickly, to reflect the actual structure of local administration and to provide a framework for building anew.

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Books

Up the Monkey Hangers!

Never mind if I have sneaked back in round here, up in County Durham, Hartlepool, Peter Mandelson’s old seat, has elected a Conservative MP, Jill Mortimer, from whom I hope we will be hearing a great deal over the next few years. She may be a Yorkshire lass, but they can be forgiving of such faults these days.

The big forgotten middle, the industrial and ex-industrial towns of Durham, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Derbyshire, now have a visible presence on the government benches of the Commons. I would like to think they were never forgotten places, never abandoned. They were never discarded for their political choices as that would be corrupt. However a psychological block can arise if the only voices heard from those towns is a whine of blame and condemnation and demands for more money, despite the open evidence that it just goes down the drain or makes things worse. It stops any practical engagement.

A string of ex-Red Wall towns with Conservative voices speaking for them can make a difference. MPs are the first to speak for their towns and deserve an open ear, whatever party they are from. What they say though makes a difference in whether they are heard. Socialism has been a disaster for the industrial towns and a voice begging for more socialism or for money to be paid to client groups with no positive outcome has to be dismissed, and then the town has no sensible voice, so it will miss out. When Labour are in power, a socialist MP is still whining for money and then may be heard with more sympathy, but he can still do no good. A town in trouble needs a constructive voice with ideas that work, and Hartlepool’s new voice it that.

The North has the key to the welfare of the whole land. If commercial investment is constrained in the crowded south, the north atrophies, and the whole country has lost half of its wealth-creating potential. More money in the north means more customers.

It could easily be messed up. The southern counties are not rich because the government has done something for them, but because it has left them alone and entrepreneurs have built their empires. Constructive ideas, based on the realities of the towns and their hinterlands, that would allow enterprise to thrive and the towns with them – that is what is expected of the new Blue Wall MPs . If they succeed, maybe their work will not be appreciated, but the big forgotten middle towns, not just those with newly blue MPs but all of them, will blossom.

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Books

Fall of the House of Cromwell

In the year 1658, September the 3rd, the Protector died at Whitehall; having ever since his last establishment been perplexed with fear of being killed by some desperate attempt of the royalists.

Being importuned in his sickness by his privy-council to name his successor, he named his son Richard; who, encouraged thereunto, not by his own ambition, but by Fleetwood, Desborough, Thurlow, and other of his council, was content to take it upon him; and presently, addresses were made to him from the armies in England, Scotland and Ireland. His first business was the chargeable and splendid funeral of his father.

Thus was Richard Cromwell seated on the imperial throne of England, Ireland, and Scotland, successor to his father; lifted up to it by the officers of the army then in town, and congratulated by all the parts of the army throughout the three nations; scarce any garrison omitting their particular flattering addresses to him.

B. Seeing the army approved of him, how came he so soon cast off?

A. The army was inconstant; he himself irresolute, and without any military glory. And though the two principal officers had a near relation to him; yet neither of them, but Lambert, was the great favourite of the army; and by courting Fleetwood to take upon him the Protectorship, and by tampering with the soldiers, he had gotten again to be a colonel. He and the rest of the officers had a council at Wallingford House, where Fleetwood dwelt, for the dispossessing of Richard; though they had not yet considered how the nations should he governed afterwards. For from the beginning of the rebellion, the method of ambition was constantly this, first to destroy, and then to consider what they should set up.

B. Could not the Protector, who kept his court at Whitehall, discover what the business of the officers was at Wallingford House, so near him?

A. Yes, he was by divers of his friends informed of it; and counselled by some of them, who would have done it, to kill the chief of them. But he had not courage enough to give them such a commission. He took, therefore, the counsel of some milder persons, which was to call a parliament. Whereupon writs were presently sent to those, that were in the last Parliament, of the other House, and other writs to the sheriffs for the election of knights and burgesses, to assemble on the 27th of January following. Elections were made according to the ancient manner, and a House of Commons now of the right English temper, and about four hundred in number, including twenty for Scotland and as many for Ireland. Being met, they take themselves, without the Protector and other House, to be a Parliament, and to have the supreme power of the three nations.

…..

the government, which by the disagreement of the Protector and army was already loose, to fall in pieces. For the officers from Wallingford House, with soldiers enough, came over to Whitehall, and brought with them a commission ready drawn, giving power to Desborough to dissolve the Parliament, for the Protector to sign; which also, his heart and his party failing him, he signed. The Parliament nevertheless continued sitting; but at the end of the week the House adjourned till the Monday after, being April the 25th. At their coming on Monday morning, they found the door of the House shut up, and the passages to it filled with soldiers, who plainly told them they must sit no longer.

Richard’s authority and business in town being thus at an end, he retired into the country; where within a few days, upon promise of the payment of his debts, which his father’s funeral had made great, he signed a resignation of his Protectorship.

(from Behemoth)

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Books

No rest, not today

Some people, laughably, think the first Monday of May is a bank holiday: clearly they are not involved in local politics.

This weekend and all today is pounding the streets, engaging with the public, no pounding of doors this year but next I will have my hands on those knockers like anything.

It is not the same without the robust conversations on the doors (allow yourself 20 seconds – no more). It is frustrating when you want to get on, but it re-engages you with real people. The householder is very happy to get everything off his chest, from why no one has mended that pothole (have you called the council to let them know, or do you think they are psychic?) to the development threatened next door, to which group of Her Majesty’s subjects they would lock up / deport / castrate (yes, I had all three in one conversation last week). They don’t generally mean it, unless discussing developers.

For the last several weeks leaflets have been delivered, rewritten and reposted, LibDem leaflets analysed with loud disgust, social media (for those who do that) filled with grinning and gurning photographs of candidates and supported and a roped-in MP on High Street and doorsteps (for those standing where there is a high street) and the local hospitals have been badgers by photo-ops, and deliverers with fingers bitten by dogs and double-spring letterboxes.

I have had tougher leaflets this year, that stood a better chance of getting through the defences of the letterbox. I haven’t even been attacked by a dog. (I know we have had a vicious lockdown recession, but it is not like those mediaeval woodcuts of famine days showing when starving families driven to kill and eat their precious hunting dogs. There are still dogs, but more restrained. I am not complaining.)

Actually, why are there heavily sprung letterbox flats with thick draft-excluders in doors to second-floor flats? What kind on ninja winds do they think they have that can get inside and snake up two flights of stairs to blow in at their door?

Legs aching, and while all my run is done, there are fellow candidates in need. Time to jump in a phonebooth and emerge as Supercanvasser, ready to collapse at my desk tomorrow morning – for the earning world does not stop because of an election.

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Books