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As the Conservatives bid Bournemouth farewell, the curtain comes down on another season of party gatherings. The Li...
As the Conservatives bid Bournemouth farewell, the curtain comes down on another season of party gatherings. The Liberal Democrats shifted towards the 'green centre' of politics, Labour worried about the Blair succession and the Tories underlined their new niceness. Visitations by Charles Kennedy, Cherie Booth and Norman Tebbit notwithstanding, each party can claim to have had a good conference.

But good for whom? The party conferences are little more than stage-managed PR exercises linked to a boozy trade-show. Aggressive security arrangements around the conference centre make certain no member of the public could ever get close to the action. Indeed, the fortress of protection afforded to British political conferences, like the evolving battery of tank-traps and armed police around the Palace of Westminster, are heavily indicative of the distance that now exists between the political class and their subjects.

Cabinet ministers don't travel by public transport because of their need for protection. So while the public were exhorted to carry on using the Tube and buses after the 7/7 attacks last year, the government stayed behind bullet-proof glass in its bomb-proof cars. In a country where police foot-patrols have all but died out, the area around Parliament looks like a Dixon of Dock Green theme park, with dozens of proper police on patrol and on guard.

Of course, individual MPs are overwhelmingly decent and dedicated people. Constituency-based parliamentarians are the essence of British democracy. Their postbags are all too real. They, like councillors, have to cope with the needs of millions of people for whom modern government is - at best - a complex and confusing influence on their lives.

The core of government is hopelessly over-burdened. But, to make matters worse, the threat of terrorism has made it impossible for the electorate to gain access to the people who operate the clunky centralised machinery. If current trends continue, senior ministers will eventually find themselves operating the government bureaucracy from secret underground bunkers while party conferences take place on off-shore islands as invitation-only events for their (security-cleared) friends and family. If this future sounds fanciful, see how far the G8 leaders have gone to escape anti-globalisation protesters.

'Closer to the people' initiatives, 'big conversations', staged consultation exercises and annual party conferences will not bridge the growing gap between Britain's governors and the governed. Polling shows an inexorable increase in alienation and mistrust. Big government cannot connect with people in their homes and neighbourhoods because the task is simply impossible. Creating feeble new community or parish councils would hardly be a solution. The only way to give people political power is to give them power. And as we know, all politics is local.

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