Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Localism is the answer

This year, there’s a lot of concern about public service cuts and rises in taxes for certain groups. This, to me, indicates the problem facing anyone in government – the British public wants better public services and lower taxes.

I fully believe that the electorate is not stupid. But, right now, it’s somebody else’s problem – how to square the circle between wanting good public services and as much cash as is needed to achieve this, and paying as little tax as possible. These aims are mutually exclusive in the main, and certainly as exercised by New Labour and Tory.
The trouble is, we have had a two-party hegemony up until now. That hegemony stands for those two different things, only sticking their neck out for headline-grabbing acts that play to their narratives to “stand up for public services” by spending money (Labour) and “keeping Britain open for business” by cutting tax (Tories).
That is grossly over-simplified of course, but that’s how your slightly politically involved person will see it – the loud person in your office with an opinion, the kind of person who influences others…
It seems to me that now the right time for Localism. But, how can localism help with this issue? I’m reminded of certain experiences that I’ve had in work and in campaigning, where I haven’t appreciated the scale of the problem or what’s needed to overcome it until I’ve actually got to the coalface. I’m also reminded of taking part, last year, in an exercise on where money should be spent in a local government budget like this one – which was eye-opening.
So my prescription is, more localism!
It’s in the spirit of community politics that by devolving power back to people you are likely to achieve more efficient outcomes. This especially applies to the kind of community aware, keen-to-help folk that get things done.
But I’m also convinced that if you look at competing demands yourself, you understand how it’s useless to keep moaning about needing more public services and paying less tax forever, and that there must be a better way of doing it.
In short, devolving power through localism leads to a more “can-do” attitude. Now, to get the loud person in the office to be the community aware person – that’s our next challenge!

This article originally appeared on Lib Dem Voice : http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-localism-is-the-answer-27812.html 

Monday, 12 March 2012

For the masses against the classes?

The question was recently posed – Are we for the masses against the classes?

I’d say neither has the answer to be honest. The masses needs – to have better public services but pay less tax, are irreconcilable. The “classes” want to pay less tax but privatise the public services so they don’t have to pay for poor people leaving the poor to fall where they are. Which is unacceptable. Of course, opinion divides on who are the masses and who are the classes, but that’s another debate for another day.

Which is why I believe channelling the needs of the masses against the vested interests of the classes is what we should be doing. And part of that is empowering local people – IMO the good work of the Localism bill seems to have escaped everyone but Richard Kemp, and Andrew Stunnell.

In fact Richard Kemp, I would say is one of a few that has sought to explain legislation enacted to the party and done it OK.

Nick Clegg has a nuclear button – he can walk out of the coalition. But he can only play it once. I’m sure his instinct is to stay. And the most vocal of the membership seem to want him to leave. Should we have done it over the forests? But then we couldn’t have done it now? Should we have done it over ESA? But then we couldn’t do it now? Should we hold on to influence tax – surely the most important part of government policy since it pays for everything – or walk now over this mess of an NHS bill?

That I can’t answer and I’m not saying the leadership are doing a great job BUT I’m not really sure any of us could do a better one, and that’s why it is coalition that’s the most important factor right now – all of this hinges on the power balance between Clegg & Alexander and Cameron & Osborne. Our principles and our values are what matters to us and of course that feels important (the issues mentioned above mean a lot to me), but the real politics is the coalition. As much as anything, we are impotent – and removing our egos from that might be both the way of seeing a way forward, being able to campaign and of feeling a bit less awful about it. And stopping dreaming about a time when we walk out of coalition, Labour fall in love with us and those supporters come back. It’s not going to happen & they won’t.

Conference expressed it’s opinion. Good. Let’s see what Nick does with it – he is our leader – and until a contender emerges that is who we follow.