Peterborough has over the last 120

years been part of Northamptonshire,

the Soke of Peterborough,

The County of Huntingdon & Peterborough,

Cambridgeshire and

now The City of Peterborough.

As well as the European Communities Act 1972, super-curmudgeon Ted Heath has to answer another count on the indictment against him: beginning the destruction of local government that continues apace by passing the Local Government Act 1972 which purported to fix something which was not yet broken and which has led to ever less democratic local administration. Labour plans now to finish it off.



Though some changes to local government were necessary to reflect the growth of conurbations, this was the era of ‘big is beautiful’ with the consequence that vast numbers of small local authorities whose elected members were very close to their electorates were destroyed and replaced with larger, less accessible and more anonymous authorities. Thus in leaps and bounds Huntingdonshire, once an agreeably small place to live where one knew one’s local councillor as someone you met in the street or the butchers, was first amalgamated with the industrial Fenland Cathedral City of Peterborough and then absorbed by Cambridgeshire.



Where once our seat of local county government had been about ten miles away, at a stroke it moved a further fifteen miles away to Cambridge. It might as well have been on the moon. Who other than someone with a particular beef or a political anorak would be bothered to drive an hour to Cambridge of an evening to witness a meeting of the local authority and then an hour back? One suspects that politicians well understood that removing the seat of government as far as possible from the majority of electors was a sure means of minimising scrutiny of their activities and that the last thing they wanted was to be in the least bit accessible to the electorate.



Having been presented with Cambridgeshire, in its reincarnation as an amalgam of the Soke of Peterborough, Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire, as the greatest thing since sliced bread, the wheel turned once again in 1998 when Peterborough was hived off as a unitary authority. The brave new world of Greater Cambridgeshire had thus lasted a mere twenty-four years.



I set out this history not, I hope, as a means of boring you to death but to make the point that since 1972 the Government has engaged in never-ending tinkering with local government so that today only those with specialist knowledge of it fully understand the difference between the plethora of local authority types which now exist from lowly parish council to Metropolitan County and of what powers each disposes.



The changes thus begun by Heath in 1972 have seen a constant process of amalgamation, change of status and loss of actual power. New authorities, once established, seem rarely to be given time to flourish before a new wave of changes spews forth from the latest incumbent of the ministry which deals with local government.


Which brings me to the suggestion in Simon Jenkins’ piece in the Guardian today that Hazel Blears, the smirking and frankly ludicrous Communities and Local Government Minister, is planning to remove local government’s last testicle:

Have you noticed how the political establishment hates elections? It regards them as vulgar, foreign, exhibitionist and unpredictable. To those in power they are mere concessions to mob rule. If electors did not insist on them, elections would have been abolished long ago as Victorian gimmicks to appease proletarian sentiment.

There is no other explanation for Westminster’s reaction to Ireland’s weekend vote on the Lisbon treaty and to David Davis’s resignation over 42-day-detention. Nor is there any other explanation for the welcome that will be given to Hazel Blears’s forthcoming local government white paper. This will, it is rumoured, reduce the 95% of elections still held in Britain (local ones) to largely consultative status, to clear the ground for Gordon Brown’s Putin-style appointed regional government.

If that is true, then it is profoundly to be hoped that the Conservative party makes it clear forthwith that it will resist any such plans, which featured not in Labour’s last manifesto, and will not merely undo them utterly upon taking power but will take radical steps to return local government as closely as it can to the electorate, together with a devolution of many of the powers that central government has accreted to itself over the last forty years that were once the preserve of local government.

Of course such plans are part of the Labour Gerrymander which is a process by which all political arrangements are made with a view to ensuring that it is relatively easy for Labour to win power but much harder for the Conservative party. This is the thrust of the White Paper issued by the Orwellian Ministry of Justice under the fiat of the thoroughly sinister Jack Straw which, inter alia, proposes to make it all but impossible for the Conservatives to fund their candidates in key marginals whilst leaving intact the £10,000 per annum ‘communications allowance’ enjoyed by the incumbents in those seats and union funding of MPs and candidates.

Lurking in the wings remains the suggestion that political parties should be funded by the Taxpayer. To the latter this is simply anathema but to the politicians it is the easy way out of the nasty little mess into which they have got themselves because they have persisted in shenanigans when it comes to party funding instead of adopting transparency as the rule. This is particularly so in the case of the Labour party which now teeters on the edge of bankruptcy and plans to look to the Taxpayer to keep it in business.

That the public hates the idea of this seems not to have registered with Labour at all though there are signs that David Cameron has begun to appreciate both that the behaviour of politicians and political parties has been deeply damaging and that it is time to respond to the electorate’s considerable distaste for politicians and their doings by cleaning up his own Augean Stables.

Thus some Tory MPs and MEPs are to be found as candidates for having their heads removed and placed on spikes adorning London Bridge, of which tendency this from the Spectator is but the latest manifestation. It was inevitable that there would be casualties from the process of opening up MPs and MEPs use of their expenses to public scrutiny. Cameron has begun a process of demonstrating that there will be zero tolerance for those who have been freeloading. It is much to desired that he does not let this drive peter out but follows it through until the Tory Party is finally purged of its reputation for sleaze. The signs are that he will, he having realized that this is necessary in order to complete the detox process.

If on the was that requires the heads of such MEPs as Chichester or Dover or MPs such as Spelman (even though her alleged misdeeds are now of some antiquity) to be the adornments of those spikes on London Bridge, so be it. Watch Tory ratings rise not fall as Cameron sends the tumbrils off to the guillotine. Labour, which many suspect has a much greater problem with the rank self-enrichment of its MPs and MEPs, dares not follow and will reap the whirlwind when their expenses are finally laid bare. For we are close, surely, to such a moment.

Given how the electorate views the attitude of MPs to the public purse, it might be thought that a considerable period of self-effacement would have settled upon the Westminster community. Not a bit of it. Whilst those whom the claim to represent are finding it a struggle to make ends meet in a way we have not seen since the 1970s, they are planning ever-deeper troughs into which to shove their snouts. Talk is of a 16% or even a 21% per cent pay rise being voted through ‘on the nod’ by MPs.

It is difficult to imagine quite why they should chose this particular moment, when their esteem in the public’s eyes is at an all-time low, to hose the fire which has been lit concerning funding MPs with petrol. One wonders if they have perhaps all been on holiday for the last year and have not noticed how very very irritated the public is with them in connection with their abuse of the public purse.

Which brings me back, I hope neatly, to where I started. In parallel with the destruction of local government, central government has assumed many of the powers formerly exercised locally (whether de jure or de facto by means of such devices as capping) whilst over the same period central government has yielded much of its power to unelected Eurocrats in Brussels. Now Brussels acts as central government and Westminster as your local authority. If you doubt this, just go watch a typical adjournment debate on BBC Parliament. The subject will, as often as not be about some footling matter that many of us would think to well beneath parliament’s attention. It is, however, simply a mark of the enfeeblement of Parliament that it now has the time to concern itself with froth and trivia.

The European Communities Act 1972 and the Local Government Act 1972: two acts of Parliament that have gone hand in hand together in the process of the destruction of the body politic of the United Kingdom. One might be forgiven for thinking that the coincidence of their passing was no accident.

And by a Conservative Government at that.

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