We have long been critical of the Coalition’s localism agenda. Not because we disagree with it in principle. Far from it. We would devolve power further and faster, and instead of dismantling those anti-democratic regional institutions we would democratise them in the form of a Wessex Parliament – the ‘Witan’ – an accountable voice for the region able to mount an effective challenge to Whitehall bullying.
We disagree with the Coalition’s plan because we don’t believe a word of it. It was always going to be a one-way street. (For example, giving communities the power to allow more housing than the local council wished to see but not less.) Now we are hearing phrases like ‘guided localism’ to describe what the Coalition really wants. Nick Raynsford, a former Labour minister, said that “for all that ministers want to talk the localism talk, they find it hard to resist interfering in local decision-making when it suits their wider public relations agenda”. And as a former Labour minister, Raynsford knows about that temptation, all too well.
The Localism Bill is still making its way through the Commons but George Osborne admitted this month that the Tories, like Labour, may promise people-power but all they will deliver is profit-power. What he is reported to be saying is that he wants to make it much easier for companies to obtain planning consent for new projects – even if they go against the wishes of local residents. When this sort of thing happens in China there’s an almighty stink about human rights violations. When it happens here, protesters are labelled ‘deficit deniers’ and plainly told that there’s no alternative to rebooting the same failed system that got us where we are.
There you have it. Did you vote for these crooks? Will you be doing it again? And again? And again?