Chris White writes: What do you want for your birthday?

I am fifty [inaudible mumble] tomorrow. Relatives sometimes ask me what I would like for my birthday and I reply with things like ‘ties, jacket, Ipad, North American art…’. The usual.

This year, though, a real treat: a meeting with Eric Pickles. I have already given the standard response to the organisers: ‘You shouldn’t have….It’s what I’ve always wanted…’

They have even arranged for a large posse of other Lib Dem group leaders to join me to make the hour go swimmingly.
Apparently there is no agenda as such. Just an opportunity to put across some messages.

But what, in a single hour?

Clearly we can bang on about the awfulness of the Localism Bill (one of my colleagues routinely calls it the Centralism Bill when in the presence of ministers). We would need to be more specific. What do we like least? Imposed elected mayors? The planning bits? The new powers for the Secretary of State?

Or we could talk about housing policy: will the new planning rules – which read like a Nimby’s Charter – actually make it more difficult for people to access affordable homes? And will the new tenancy models cause greater hardship?

Or we could talk about the way local government is regulated. The defenestration of the Audit Commission is now set to lead to each council having a statutory audit committee, comprising a number of people who are not councillors.

It reminds me of Disney’s Fantasia, where Mickey Mouse, as Goethe’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, first enchants his broom to save effort but then finds he cannot get it to stop bringing water. In desperation he chops it up, only to find that it is multiplied a hundredfold in a menacing climax.

So instead of one Audit Commission we are set to have hundreds, all with different abilities and regulatory stances. Be careful of what you wish for, Mickey.

The trouble with this list is that it is a politician’s. If I were to knock on a few doors and ask people what they wanted from the Secretary of State we would probably find marked indifference to the issue of elected mayors or to the future of audit (people just don’t know what’s good for them…).

We would, however, find some loud applause for the recent announcement that councils might be paid to get rid of fortnightly collections.

And for the tough noises on expenditure, be it chief executive salaries, councillor facilities or council credit cards.

But in contrast we would find precious little support for much deregulation: people want their councils to be closely watched, preferably not by them. And they want to be able to object to next door’s proposed extension and their decision to fell the lovely oak tree which overlooks their back garden.

Perhaps I should simply plead for all of us to get closer to what people really want – to listen and not to lecture.

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7 Comments

  • I’d want my wife to remember.

    As for local government – Local Rent Boards, with anyone owning more than one property excluded from them by law. With punitive triple digit Council Tax increases on second, third etc homes.

    As a separate point, NIMBY has now been replaced by BANANA.

  • Chris Keating 7th Jun '11 - 3:22pm

    BANANA?

  • BANANA
    Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody

    I think…

  • Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.

  • Simon McGrath 8th Jun '11 - 9:04am

    So we don’t like nimbyism but our manifesto said :
    “Liberal Democrats believe local people know best about how things should
    be done in their area. We will radically decentralise politics so that local
    people have the powers and the funding to deliver what they want for their
    communities”

    what does this mean then?

  • Mark Nicholson 8th Jun '11 - 11:34am

    An adorable mental image of hundreds of local audit ‘new brooms’ doing a fevered dance. I’ll be humming Dukas’s infectious theme for the rest of the day. Perhaps we can borrow the iconic silhouette image of Mickey shaking hands with conductor Stokowski for the Commission’s leaving card. Substituting another recognisable silhouette on the podium of course. Thanks also for reminding me of the splendid word ‘defenestration’. There have been many days in Millbank Tower when one regrets the windows are sealed shut.

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