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FRONT LINE FIRST - BLIND FAITH

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As a low Methodist by upbringing I cannot help observing the argument over the choice of a new Archbishop of Canter...
As a low Methodist by upbringing I cannot help observing the argument over the choice of a new Archbishop of Canterbury with a certain detached whimsy. I got to thinking it was a real pity I could not nominate Sir Jeremy Beecham, chair of the Local Government Association for the job. After all, if one of the qualifications is faith, Sir Jeremy is wading in it.

It has taken faith over the years to believe in Newcastle United. This year his faith is vindicated, though probably not sufficiently to push the Magpies into the European Cup. But the faith required to support Newcastle is nought compared with the faith which believes the Labour administration really does love local government.

Through two local government bills, prescriptive council structures, the construction of the great magic mountain of best value, the laboured birth of directly elected mayors, the addictive dependence on public service agreements (the administrative equivalent of cannabis) Sir Jeremy's faith has never faltered. The promised land is there for those with eyes to see it.

It takes more than faith to see HM Treasury as a promised land - it takes a vivid leap of imagination. But the Treasury is, apparently, the source of salvation. Chancellor Gordon Brown has discovered regionalism and has decided it can only happen if there are accountable local bodies which can be taken into partnership.

Now a wise man would, at the mention of partnership with the Treasury, hasten to throw salt over his shoulder. There is only one form of partnership with the Treasury - being told what to do. Question any Cabinet minister in the select committee on how their public service agreements were arrived at and invite them to defend the logic of the terms without hesitation, repetition or deviation for one whole minute and you will soon be met by a gaze of helpless supplication.

But catch the same minister over a plate of lamb dhansak and a daring 25 centilitres of white wine in the cafeteria and public reticence will yield to a positively unquenchable commentary upon the Treasury and all its works.

You can sum it up in one pithy expression which is certainly not found in the New Labour thesaurus - 'We were shafted.' Now haven't I heard that phrase somewhere before ?

David Curry

Conservative MP, Skipton & Ripon

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