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Big Ben(edict) – for whom the bell tolls?

May 20, 2009
It’s not every day the Speaker of the House resigns, so there was a feverish atmosphere in Westminster yesterday evening.  A short walk back to the tube from a local government event captured the scene perfectlyAll the actors are out.  First, the architect of it all, Benedict Brogan walks unassumingly by.  He’s now calling for more resignations after Michael Martin’s.  On the other side of the road, Lembit Opik sythes through the late evening sunshine down Milbank. If he’s trying to avoid the attentions of the Telegraph man, as most MPs are, then he’s going about it the wrong way, resplendent in dayglo green gilet atop his segway. Next the media village and a scrum of parliamentarians ready to comment, some of whom I note have already been embroiled in the expenses storm.  Meanwhile, the Tamil protest continues outside the mother of parliaments, swelled in recent days as the crisis in Sri Lanka increases in intensity. The comparison with the rest of scene need only be noted.

But back to that event. John Healey, Caroline Spelman and Julia Goldsworthy were there to talk local government.  The consensus was that serious and lasting damage had been wreaked on our entire democratic system.  The Minister described the gloom he had encountered that day on the campaign trail, going as far as to say that a situation similar to Le Pen’s success in French politics was a distinct possibility, with extremist parties coming in from the margins.  

And all this on the day when the CLG Select Committee published a damning report on the back of its Balance oPower Inquiry. Yes, we’ve made little progress to curb our centralist tendencies. Yes, too often local government’s alleged deficiencies are made the business of our members of parliament In the current democratic crisis, this model no longer works.  All on yesterday’s panel talk a good game on localism.  So does the report.  You could argue that its timing is appalling, given the media attention on the expenses scandal and the effect on our national psyche.  Local politicians campaigning on the doorstep will pay for national politicians’ mistakes.  As nationally, local political futures will change because of it.  However, with a strong local mandate, councillors and local government can make the tangible difference to peoples’ lives, far away from the Westminster bubble.  The report states this case strongly, as does the LGiU

As I descended into the tube, Big Ben struck eight deep, ominous gongs.  The immediate future is undeniably bleak.  We won’t change minds tomorrow, nor by June 4th, perhaps not anytime soon, but localism really is the best chance we’ve got of reconnecting with a severely cynical electorate. 

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