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How much local democracy do we really want? The no increase results in the council tax referendums in Bristol and C...
How much local democracy do we really want? The no increase results in the council tax referendums in Bristol and Croydon sparked debate in the media about whether we trust the electorate - ie you and me - to make difficult decisions about local budgets.
The Guardian declared pompously 'budget making is for elected representatives not for postal voters'. It went on to invoke former Bristol MP Edmund Burke and urged the city council 'to place their judgment about what is right before a pointer from a partial poll'.
George Micklewright (Lab), leader of the council, gave the paper short shrift in a letter the next day, pointing out when Burke 'had lectured the electors of Bristol about the importance of his judgment, they decided they had had quite enough of this arrogant sod and gave him the boot'.
The Bristol Evening Post had originally been supportive of the ballot, but turned against the council during the process, saying the vote was 'cynically linked to education' and warning the 'council has made a rod for its own back'.
Yet a month earlier, the Financial Times reported that, on the issue of elected mayors, the Post had warned Mr Micklewright it would force a referendum if the council got cold feet about the mayoral option.
The upshot seems to be that the media, and others, see local democracy as a good thing only if the right questions produce the right answer. The Independent's David Aaronovitch highlighted results from a BBC Online poll: 'When asked what Gordon Brown should do if he had more money to give away, 70% replied that money should be given to public services such as health and education.'
Mr Aaronovitch concluded: 'The Bristol result suggests we are broadly in favour of other people paying higher taxes, but don't want to do it ourselves.'
'Labour should heed voices of Bristol,' warned the Observer, saying that blame lay with the council for failing to win the argument. Is it really so unreasonable to believe that the voters might expect councils to fund improvements through efficiency savings? If the best value message still has not been heard, who is to blame?
At Labour's local government conference in Glasgow, Blair spoke of voter apathy. But disillusion often stems from politicians' failure to listen. The Bristol and Croydon results may be uncomfortable for some, but they are a brave attempt to engage with voters on issues that matter.
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