Green Genie Flies Out Of Her Bottle
UK local elections deliver power to people and places
The political establishment seem surprised — the rest of us less so.
True to form the political establishment contends that the reason most local election gains were made by parties committed to remain in the EU is that the electorate were signaling that they still want to leave the EU! There’re none so deaf as those who don’t want to hear.
Meanwhile the rest of us are far more interested in the agenda for all 1,356 newly elected local councillors and the redirection of their local communities — particularly in the context of a revocation of that Brexit delusion when the message is hammered home with voting on May 23rd for the European Parliament.
The over-centralised grip of Whitehall on the UK’s economies has long been a source of concern and global amazement. Far from being able to run the country the dogma-driven dictators have only been able to demonstrate their prowess in running the country down.
The deeply embedded centralised mindset does not just govern thinking in Whitehall and Westminster — whatever the issue, across the country there’s a constant cry that something ‘needs to be done’, with the presumption that those upstairs have the ability and foresight to do anything. Despite marginal Metro freedoms, the jealously guarded levers of power have long been disconnected from any effective action except the ‘unforeseen consequences’ of short-term (single use) policy cling film.
The Pendulum of Power
The pendulum of power swings very slow. The UK’s current centralised condition reflects a reaction four decades ago against dire local governance. The classic fears of incompetent local government, the risk of corruption, more-complex coordination costs and complaints of post-code lotteries have long since been out-weighed by need for greater citizen participation, economic diversity, enhanced transparency and accountability, and closer attention to citizens’ needs.
Despite recognising insufficient capacity for place-based initiatives and need for better local public service delivery, the central grip of bean counters, with a jaundiced pre-digital view of provincial technical competence, cannot be relaxed. A corrective swing of the pendulum is fiercely resisted despite evidence to the contrary — not least in our perennial productivity puzzle.
The UK relies upon central government to make decisions about a huge range of issues on the economy —whereas regions in Germany, Netherlands and elsewhere have devolved powers to invest — and they are more productive than UK equivalents
and the consequences are . . .
Here’s the productivity of the [UK] North’s sub-regions compared to their equivalents in Germany and the Netherlands
A New Agenda?
As much as the wizards of Whitehall might wish for local communities to deal only with potholes, bins, building regs and compliance with edicts from above, we now have the makings of a new army of local councillors (Greens, Liberal Democrats and Independents) with an altogether different view of their local role — with the agency to give short shrift to custom and practice. ‘Consistency’, said Oscar Wilde, ‘ is the last refuge of the unimaginative’.
Regardless of the will of Westminster (Heathrow’s new runway will surely help Ministers fly to global climate crisis conferences, and HS2 passenger demand proven as provincial protesters flock to block London’s streets) Climate Action is sure to be high on local community agendas. Municipal Enterprise (inspired local economic wellbeing with reinvestment in public services) with less reliance on unreliable handouts from No 11, and greater effort in matching College/Uni projects to local social and economic priorities will not be far behind. And why shouldn’t our major metropolitan regions be developing their very own Foreign Policies based on local investment needs and expertise? The Smart City brigade might even pause to refocus on ‘Intelligent Communities’ — a slightly less-techno but far more citizen-centric reprioritisation. Come back Hanseatic League — so sorry we lost the plot.
Steady on — we should not get carried away.
Those local elections did not sweep across all communities, nations or sub-national regions. In some place only a small proportion of council seats were being contested — and in others none at all. And perhaps not all of those today surprised to find their efforts rewarded are yet fully prepared for apple-cart overturning opportunities. The good news is that there is no shortage of inspiration — from Circular (and Doughnut-like) Economists, the ‘Radical Help’ of Hilary Cottam, and growing numbers of community organisers. We know how to do this — all it needs is feet on the ground and determination.
The green remaining genie is very much out of her bottle — and no further effort to deliver the unreality of Brexit will stop her flying.
For advice on Remain voting tactics in the May 23rd European Parliament elections register at: https://www.remainvoter.com