Localism. What does it mean? It seems to mean that local communities can decide whatever they like but if they ever make the wrong decision, as judged from London, they will be severely punished for doing so. And will know that they jolly well deserve it too.
Who’s a naughty community then? George Osborne announced yesterday – see 2.209 in the Autumn Statement – some changes to the New Homes Bonus. That’s the bribe, paid by London, paid for out of all our taxes, paid to local councils for the number of new homes built each year in their area. Until now, the bribe has been paid even where the homes are approved not by the council but on appeal by the London regime. How was that loophole missed? Never mind, now the bribe will not be paid where the London regime itself gave the permission, in the teeth of local opposition. It will keep the money (which ultimately, remember, is our money).
The community, who may have spent thousands fighting the appeal to save some treasured local environment, will now gain no financial benefit from the houses imposed upon them. On the contrary, they will have to pay all the more from their own resources for the extra services required to meet needs generated by the new development. Councillors will have to think twice, then twice again, before turning down proposals, even where the case for refusal is strong, because appeal decisions are entirely unpredictable. Everything hinges on how the Planning Inspector handling the appeal is feeling.
In Margaret Thatcher’s first Cabinet, the post of Environment Secretary was held by Michael Heseltine, nicknamed ‘Tarzan’ on account of his trademark mane of blond hair. Today aged 80, Lord Heseltine is still making waves.
In a series of speeches to local leaders this year he has argued that “We must not wait for ‘what London wants us to do’… we need a peasants’ revolt and we need local people to argue their case and fight the dominance of London… If you want your power back you are in a battle and you don’t win battles by cosying up to the enemy”, warning that there is a “war going on in government about this whole localism agenda”:
“There’s an inevitable battle going on in Whitehall. There are those trying to protect their own interests. So frankly, you’d better start protecting yours. Lobby your MPs, and use the local and national media to drive your campaign. This is not about giving in gently, which local communities have done for far too long. You have to go out there and fight for it.”
Whenever Heseltine speaks or writes, there’s always a very firm agenda, evident or hidden. Elected mayors. City regions. HS2. It could be anything, and it isn’t always an agenda we’d endorse. But it’s not impossible that Heseltine is sincere in believing that many more decisions could be made locally and regionally instead of centrally. He may not entirely have lost touch with the idea that such decisions should be democratic ones, though that is not something he appears willing to champion. As an ex-minister, he certainly knows what he’s dealing with in taking on the centre:
“If you let those monkeys loose they will cock it up – that’s what they [the Government] think.”
Less than a century ago, women were denied representation in Parliament. It was argued that their brains weren’t up to handling complex political issues. In other parts of the world, a franchise restricted by skin colour was the norm until even more recently. Today these viewpoints are considered barbarous and indefensible by most of the world.
Yet the London regime is still able to over-ride democratically expressed local opinion just because it feels like it. Just because it deems the locals incapable of making the right decisions on what their community needs and how to go about providing it. Just because the decisions made don’t suit the whims of maxed-out growth junkies in London. In a hundred years from now, the question will surely be why we put up with it for so long. Why did we tolerate civil servants coming to our towns and villages to inquire into local decisions and reverse them? Why didn’t we just toss the blighters onto the nearest muckheap like a free folk with any lingering self-respect would have done?
Not only didn’t we do it. We did much less than that. We actually voted for the London parties to carry on treating us as monkeys. We went on chattering politely to them instead of recognising them as the deadly enemy they really are. We fondly imagined that the bars of the cage were there to protect us when all they did was deny us the freedom to shape the future of our communities for ourselves.