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Drawing the boundaries

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My butler asks if I can spare a moment to speak to Barack Obama who has, naturally, phoned to seek my advice.

Mr Obama asks me to describe the lessons the US may draw from English local government.

I explain: “A local council is elected to govern its area, decide its tax level and spending priorities and how it should develop, and then central government overrules it and imposes its decisions instead.”

The new president asks incredulously whether an unelected official, of whom no one has heard, can decide a council’s tax rate, or overturn its planning decisions.

I assure him they can, and hear a startled exhalation. He is obviously tempted, were he not impeded by tiresome details like the constitution.

When I tell him that a government minister may merge, abolish or redraw council boundaries as they please, he is dumbstruck.

“Do you mean boundaries that have existed for centuries can just be torn up?” Mr Obama incredulously asks.

“And can your ministers do that so that the results favour their own party?”

I assure him that while it would be impossible for Mistress Blears to draw any boundary at present that favoured her party, such a thing would, in theory, be perfectly possible.

“If I could just redraw state boundaries, the Democrats could be in power forever!” the president exclaims, clearly seized of the idea that those states where people wield guns while claiming to be ‘pro-life’ would lose all influence.

“Are there really absolutely no laws that protect your localities against central government?”

I assure him there are not, but the line has already gone dead.

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