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The Marxist-Leninists have taken over the government, and this might, or might not, be a good thing.
It is the paradox of localism – a plan to hand away government power is inevitably going to involve the use of government power in conflict with local interests. So the schools revolution is in practice a land grab by Whitehall of the functions of town halls. Elected police chiefs are a direct challenge to the professional autonomy of local officers.
GP commissioning tears up the networks – albeit bureaucratic and unaccountable – which manage healthcare for a community. The same goes for the giant new systems for administering welfare: the Work Programme, involving a handful of whopping private firms appointed by ministers to deliver skills training; and the Universal Credit, the new combined mega-benefit with rates and conditions set, yes, in Whitehall.
So far, so what. These are huge changes designed to break up the vested interests that stifle progress and inhibit local autonomy. Naturally enough, localism is being pushed down through the structures of Whitehall. But the result is that we are getting decentralisation within the silos. Freedoms are being given, not taken, and the danger is that the true purpose of localism – the empowerment of communities – will be lost.
At the moment, the two likely outcomes of the Cameron programme are either that the centre remains in charge, unable to cede autonomy to local bodies because of the political danger of things going wrong; or they do cede autonomy and we end up with a messy diversity of independent local agencies owing no allegiance to central government nor local people and feeling no obligation to co-operate with each other.
We are in a revolution, and at the moment the Party – the clique of revolutionaries are the centre – is the only power in the land. There simply has to be a countervailing force – a popular movement to take the freedoms offered and make them work for local communities.
I worry that anti-statists spend too much intellectual effort attacking dirigisme and not enough practical effort creating local alternatives to it. The true value of the Cameron revolution – the enormous divestment of state power – will come to nothing if local people don’t combine, organise, and become communities in fact not just in name. For that we need real local leadership.
The steel girders of the state are being lowered, at last, to the ground. Where are the human hands to reach up, hold them, and pull them together?