Tag Archives: lib dem peers

William Wallace writes: Can we campaign on local democracy

One of the assumptions of political campaigning is that voters are not interested in political machinery.  Schools, hospitals, trains and buses, yes: Councils, regional authorities, elected mayors and voting systems, no.  But have we now reached a point where this has changed, where it might even help us to include in this year’s local election campaigning arguments for stronger local authorities and less dictation from Westminster?

In the much-delayed Levelling-Up White Paper Michael Gove has promised ‘devolution’: by which he means imposing elected mayors, with limited local scrutiny, on most urban areas that haven’t yet accepted them, and ‘governors’ on rural counties.  Governors are what empires send out to keep distant districts under control, while money and power remain at the centre.  Ministerial treatment of almost all elected mayors except Ben Houchem (Teeside’s Tory mayor) has been patronising – expected to do Whitehall’s bidding and be grateful for the Packages of money they are offered.  Michael Gove treats even Andy Street and Andy Burnham with disdain; Grant Shapps has attacked Tracey Brabin and Dan Jarvis (West and South Yorkshire mayors) as ‘irrational’ for their criticisms of the Integrated Rail Strategy.

This Tory government is irrationally against public service (and public servants) in general, and autonomous local authorities running local services close to ordinary people in particular.  One of the many scandals of the past 3 years is Johnson’s instinctive preference for outsourcing companies to run Test and Trace when the pandemic erupted, ignoring the public health officers with their established local knowledge and contacts across the country – who would have organised a better scheme at a fraction of the vast among of money paid out to these multinational firms.  Education is micro-managed from Whitehall, in partnership with academy chains, with intermittent attention to what local parents want.  ‘Levelling Up’ is packaged as hand-outs from the centre, with competitive bids and ministerial discretion to favour places with Conservative MPs.

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Brian Paddick: Police Bill is most authoritarian, illiberal Bill I have seen

The Police Bill is not just about curtailing the right to protest.  The new legislation allows the Home Secretary to force local authorities and other public bodies to hand over sensitive, personal information to the police, even against the informed judgement of professionals on the ground.  Liberal Democrats in the Lords will vote against this further extension of centralised power over local decision-making.

Part of the truly illiberal Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is not getting much publicity is a new duty on public bodies to give information to the police, so the cops can try to arrest their way out of the problem of serious violence.  What we actually need is a truly multi-agency, public health approach, where enforcement is only one part of the solution.  For example, when I went to Scotland I met a young father, whose partner committed suicide, who realised their son would grow-up without either of his parents if he did not turn away from violence, and with support, he has done just that.

Of course, if anyone has information that will help reduce or prevent serious violence, they have a duty to share it, and this Bill establishes a statutory duty on public bodies to share that information with each other, including the police sharing their information with others.  To the extent that the Bill removes barriers to allow the sharing of information, we support it.  In the wake of the horrific case of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, the importance of information sharing is vital, although the changes in this Bill would not have affected that case.

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