HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes
Polls conducted on June 23rd, the British people voted to leave the European Union, reveal that the main reason people opted for Brexit was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.
Those who claim that voters were misled, confused or voting solely about immigration, don’t understand that the British people grasped what many of the political class wouldn’t – that faceless bureaucratic EU institutions feel remote from our needs, hopes and fears.
People want power to be exercised close to its effect and now, as we take back of sovereignty from the supranational EU to Westminster, it is time to think about what more could be done at a local level.
Public policy rarely reflects the truism that ‘all politics is local’. Unsurprisingly people usually have a better idea of how to improve things in their locality; it is in the nexus of local, knowledge and resource that the dynamism of concerted action can be forged.
No one understood this better than the great reformer Joseph Chamberlain who saw that community and civic pride are essential to effective political action. After becoming Lord Mayor of Birmingham in 1873, he initiated sweeping reforms, pioneering slum-clearance and the construction of public buildings. Chamberlain believed that public services should be owned and run by local authorities, and so lobbied Westminster to ensure he had the necessary powers to clean-up his city.
This civil engagement was the wellspring of social reform from Chamberlain’s time through to the inter-war period. Sadly, after 1945 public policy moved decisively against this vision of local action with the post-war belief that ‘the gentleman in Whitehall knows best’, for too long, central government hoarded and concentrated power.
This approach simply doesn’t work, its ultimate outcome is less democratic, more bureaucratic policy, leaving little room for adaptation to reflect local circumstances or innovation to deliver services more effectively and at lower cost.
This Government has already done much to decentralise power, freeing Local Authorities to act when and where they think it necessary, and giving councils greater powers to work together -along with other bodies and organisations- to deliver services and formulate innovative solutions to problems.
By taking this dynamic localism further we can infuse new life and energy into local Government. As we exit the European Union and reassert our national sovereignty, it is also time to re-establish distinctive local democracy as well. Inspired by Chamberlain’s vision we can reignite civic pride.