Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What’s so great about local democracy?

I saw my local councillor the other day. She’s a very pleasant and committed person who chooses to give up her time for the good people of Marple.

Faced with an opportunity to articulate to a local politician the issue of whether Greater Manchester should have a mayoral figure, like Ken Livingstone in London, I did not. Instead I chose to vent my spleen about a parade of drunks that spill out of a local night club.

That I did is indicative of a wider crisis in politics and local government in the regions of England.

At its best local politicians keep an eye on whether the officials do the small stuff well; such as whether there is somewhere to take your recycling and that the bins get collected on time.

At its worst they get in the way of progress and sensible economic decision making. They have no real say over education, health, transport or policing. That is dictated by national policy.

I have come to this decision reluctantly, but believe it with all the zeal of a new convert. Local government, as it is constructed, should be scrapped entirely. It would free up local councillors to be proper local champions who rattle cages and name and shame the incompetent.

The lives of the people of every borough in the North West can be improved by the confidence of businesses to invest in them and for more people to visit them. It’s that simple. Everything else is meddling.

Example: Having been mugged by Tesco into building a store bigger than the one they had planning permission for, Stockport Borough Council had an application to attract Ikea to a neighbouring site turned down. They should never have even been entertaining the idea. It has ended up four miles up the M60 in Ashton, part of neighbouring Tameside, on a vacant site with better access. Good.

Another example: Following the letter of the planning system led officials in Sefton to decline planning permission to the Gormley statues, Another Place. This is meant to be a borough that is part of the Capital of Culture 2008. The decision has been stalled as the sensible politicians, under the weight of a public campaign, to try and find a way to override the concerns of illegal poachers and moronic tourists. Good.

Some people in Liverpool think their city needs an elected mayor to catch up with the pace of change in rival cities like Manchester and Newcastle. No it doesn’t. Manchester is one of the most undemocratic cities in the country. It is ruled effectively and marketed attractively in the manner of a one party fiefdom. And that is the secret of its success. The politicians know when to shut up and get out of the way.

(As featured in the November issue of

1 comment:

rob said...

Michael,

I found your blog on my Google alert under PR Manchester! What else?

I will dip in from time to time.

Your point that power is so centralised that local government does not have any power was echoed in a recent programme by a number of notable broadcast journalists - Jeremy Paxman, Nick Robinson, Jon Snow. They were countering Tony Benn - a cross examination in fact - in saying that the media has little interest in local democracy because it has little power. Tony Benn was dismayed at the journalists' response.

I commented on his naviety in connection with the media and local government; I point out that I respect his integrity and I am not a Daily Mail wielding critic, far from it. However, I was heavily rebuked by some capital based Labour party member for the audacity to be "so" iconoclastic. Not his words; he just spluttered an angry if below par GCSE response; I think it was anger that ruined his grammar.

So local democracy as you have demonstrated can still generate passion.

I must admit I have my passion: Manchester City - you forgot humour, tenacity, decency, integrity in addition to loyalty in your previous football entry when describing the blue three quarter sof Manchester.

I am looking forward to reading the Insider blogging article, which will feature in a post on my artisanmc blog.

Rob