The virtue of local democracy…and Boris
Actually, it is a pledge which (so far) Cranmer has kept, and after an excellent speech in Blackpool, it is evident that Ken Livingstone is about to face his most formidable opponent to date. Gone was the Woosterish buffoonery, gone was the air of pomposity, but not a bit of the humour was compromised, and thankfully none of the charm. He declared: ‘ When people ask me are you serious about this, I can tell them that I can think of nothing more serious than the security and prosperity of the powerhouse of the British economy and whose booming service industries are the best possible vindication of the revolutions brought in by Conservative governments.’ It is no wonder he received a rousing reception.
Boris Johnson is on course to becoming one of the most powerful politicians in the UK. If the Conservative Party really delivers on real devolved powers to city mayors, many more will become so, for the Conservative Party is the party of local government. The policy will revive local democracy, and invigorate local elections. And Cranmer is not talking about voting for refuse collection, graffiti cleaning, or road repairs: if Cranmer had his way, local authorities would also control local policing, local health, local education and local taxation.
And this will doubtless lead to derision and accusations of a ‘postcode lottery’ in the provision of public services, and Cranmer says amen to that. It is only by liberating local councils to provide these crucial services that one county may see how another does it better, and be spurred to emulate the model of success: to do better, to try harder . The county councils should run the counties of the United Kingdom, and should become more autonomous. This would not only revive the county identity, but standards would improve, and people would feel more in control of how their taxes are spent.
This appears to be the theme of Lord Heseltine. He called for the roles of council chief executive and leader to be combined in elected mayoralties with four year terms, including powers over local policing, education and healthcare. He observed: ‘Chief executives of major cities are paid around £150,000 to £200,000 per annum placing then amongst the highest paid in those cities, but they are not held to account by local people. The leader of the council works at least the same hours, faces public and press scrutiny, and is paid a fraction of the chief executive's salary. I believe it's time to combine these two jobs.’
Intrinsic to democracy, above all other forms of government, is the importance of each individual as created and loved by God. It permits the examining, correcting and rebuking process, which is necessary in man’s fallen and corruptible state, by emphasising that powerful officers of government are accountable to ordinary people. Since to err is human, national governments subject to the will of fallible electorates can, and do, make mistakes, but are also able to rectify those mistakes. The righteousness of strengthening local democracy lies in the intrinsic accountability of those in authority, and the reality that everyone counts, because God counts them. This, in political guise, is the essence of democracy, and there is no better path than the involvement of ordinary citizens in the framing of their laws.