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FRONT LINE FIRST-TAKING THE BAIT

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There is a special technique for catching razor shells for use as bait. These bivalve molluscs have a long, straigh...
There is a special technique for catching razor shells for use as bait. These bivalve molluscs have a long, straight shell. They burrow upright into the mud in the area of low tide, and emerge from their shells to feed when covered with water. To hunt them you need salt, seawater and a sharp eye for the small holes in the mud shaped like a figure eight which indicate a burrowed shell.

You drizzle a little salt over the hole, pour some water over it gently and, hey presto, the razor thinks the tide is up and pops out of its shell to feed. You immediately grab it just below the level of the mud and yank it out of its hole.

Razor shells put me in mind of the Local Government Association. Here was everybody in Harrogate safely buried in the mud, when along comes Stephen Byers in his swimming costume and starts sprinkling salt over their holes. Immediately they think the tide is in and pop up cheerfully to feed on the sweet plankton in the shape of promises of simplified regulations and white papers on local government's role which he dribbles over them.

It is amazing just how desperately local government wants to be loved. It is like Cinderella always rushing to the doormat to see if there is an invitation to the ball. Four years ago, dear old Hilary 'Stalin' Armstrong was waving salt and water over councillors. Up they popped, only to be grabbed and tied up in neat bundles, as the government proceeded to lay down the law for how councils should be organised and prescribed the production of around 70 statutory plans. Now Ms Armstrong has found her true vocation as chief whip - though her attempt to treat MPs like councillors produced a humiliating defeat for the government on the composition of select committees.

So why should it be any different under Mr Byers and Mr Raynsford? Of course Mr Byers will chat away like a Tupperware salesman at a coffee morning, and Mr Raynsford will beam with an understanding expression. But how serious is the government about unravelling inspection regimes - the complex gendarmerie put in place by Labour? Who really expects public expenditure disparities across the country to be addressed by local government finance changes?

Where will it all end up? Bait, of course, just like before.

David Curry

Conservative MP, Skipton & Ripon

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