Alex Massie

Local Tories

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The Conservatives new approach to localism - or subsidiarity - deserves a couple of cheers. It is at least a step in the right direction. Just as well since, allied with Tory education policy and, one might argue, some burnished environmental credentials, this "New Localism" is supposed to be the "Big Idea" animating a renewed, reinvigorated Toryism.

So, while today's announcement is welcome, it's also imcomplete. Apart from anything else, local accountability requires local financing. There's not enough in the Tory proposals (yet) to link local councils with local sources of revenue. As the Scottish Parliament has demonstrated, if there's no link between policy and revenue-raising then more money is presumed to be the solution to all problems. Equally, why limit the proposals for elected mayors to a dozen largish English cities? Why not every city, even every town? This would hardly be considered revolutionary anywhere else.

Still, despite that, this is a step in the right direction even if one has another quibble. David Cameron,

explained that “decentralisation, devolution and empowerment” are naturally part of a Conservative approach to government, and stressed the importance of an “empowering state” rather than an “overpowering state”.

This is the wrong way round: it presumes that power flows from the top to the bottom, rather than the other way round. It is the people who should be "empowering" the state to perform certain clearly defined functions, not the state granting the citizenry the ability to look after some of their own affairs. In other words Cameron's conversion to decentralisation, while welcome and indeed necessary, does not yet seem complete.

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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