Alex Massie

David Cameron’s Watford Playground Problem

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Brother Liddle is right to despair at the latest local government absurdity: banning parents from children's playgrounds unless they've undergone a criminal background check to prove that they're not paedophiles. There would appear to be no limit to local government lunacy. O tempora, O mores indeed.

This sort of thing, however, also poses a problem for David Cameron. The Tories' "localism agenda" is by some way their most interesting and, at least potentially, important idea. But there's one obvious drawback: it means giving more power to local councils. And, as we are reminded on a daily basis, local councils are more than amply-stocked with fools.

Decentralisation is an admirable and, I would argue, necessary idea. But simply giving local communities greater power isn't enough unless you also help foster a culture in which people take local government much more seriously than they do now. I doubt that can happen unless local government is itself responsible for raising most of the money it spends. Without that link, the localist agenda is at best half-cooked. When local government is dependent upon central government for its revenue it's not accountable to local voters, it's accountable to central government.

One other thing: the press rightly highlights the absurdities of this sort of loony-cooncil nonense. But the same newspapers that make a fuss about this are the same papers that constantly suggest there are paedophiles waiting to pounce upon your children at any time, any place. (And on the internet!) If we had a better, less mendacious, less hysterical press then perhaps we'd also be able to approach some of thse matters in a mildly more sensible, slightly less paranoid fashion.

Fat chance of that ever happening.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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