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Two drunks tied to the same lamppost

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Up to now political “debate” has largely taken the form of Tory jeering at Labour’s refusal to utter the word “cuts,” and Labour sneering that the Tories can’t wait to take the axe to public services they have never, deep in their political heart, really loved. The parties have been lurching around like two drunks tied to the same lamppost.

But if we get beyond this comic opera at Westminster there is some real government taking place- and some real argument to be had. The Tory leadership is realising that Conservative councils can offer a sort of apperatif to the electorate of creative thinking with a dash of localism to add flavour.

Labour, for its part, hopes Conservative councils will lay bare the true face of red-in-tooth-and-claw uncaring Toryism.

So George Osborne goes out of his way to praise Tory councils for their actions to mitigate the impact of the recession. Essex CC’s post office initiative or business loan facilitation; Barnet LBC’s ideas for a “pick and mix” system of social care; Hammersmith and Fulham LBC’s radical ideas on social housing.

The interesting thing about these is that they chime with a zeitgeist coming from the think-tanks which argues that three generations on we need to re-think the whole basis of the post-war welfare state.

Inconveniently for Labour they can also be portrayed as the continuation of the Blairite agenda for choice and diversity in delivery of public services.

Conservative councils can offer a sort of apperatif to the electorate of creative thinking with a dash of localism

David Curry, Conservative MP for Skipton & Ripon

More broadly Tory councils have embraced the concepts of multi-area agreements and sub-regional groupings. If they are politically sharp they will start bidding to take over functions now delivered by quangos like the regional development agencies, the skills councils and even the increasingly redundant regional offices. This will help Cameron deliver both smaller central government and effective devolution. They should look upon the quangos like Henry VIII looked upon the monasteries – as ripe for plunder.

It’s tough for Labour. In local government it is demoralised and heading for more defeats in May. The huge increases in council tax over the years have made it a lightning conductor for discontent which probably helps the Tory case for cuts. The next few yeas could well be seriously exciting for Tory local government.

Remember when it was Westminster, Wandsworth and Buckinghamshire and precious little else….?

David Curry, Conservative MP for Skipton & Ripon


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