Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Anti-localism disease in social policy - from the Dieback Administration Civic Voice have cranked up their campaign against the government’s proposals to change the planning system. As with the creeping phenomenon of academies, the government’s attitude to planning seems to be peculiarly anti-localist, contradicting all the rhetoric about localism we’ve been hearing. ‘These proposals will mean neighbours will not be able to object to unsightly developments and big business will be able to install broadband boxes and other infrastructure without notifying the local council. Effectively removing the community voice…’ The effect could well be to erode rapidly the character of neighbourhoods that have taken shape over time in a considered, fundamentally democratic way. And it’s the erosion of the context for and everyday evidence of local democracy that most concerns me. Policies that treat schools and libraries as if they were challenges in a demolition ball arcade game are part of the same disdainful, destructive attitude towards the places where people live. Similarly, today we had the local government secretary reinforcing the creed that locally elected councils might not be trusted to take decisions on local services, so that central government might have to confiscate their right to do so. (Note his ludicrous use of the phrase 'hard-working residents'). And I can’t even begin to contemplate the impact of the widely-derided universal credit system on social support. I was in a meeting of local community and voluntary agencies this morning where there was a sense of desperation at the trauma and havoc to come. No doubt some official would call such forebodings ‘hysterical’, in very much the same way that, with reference to the latest Children’s Commissioner’s report on child sexual abuse, ‘a Government source said it was “difficult to overstate the contempt” with which ministers viewed the report’s conclusions.’ (Mail) The prime minister seems to have disagreed, but hey, that’s ministers for you, they're a jolly lot, never the kind of folk to take such an issue too seriously. I believe W. H. Auden kept a rotten apple on his mantlepiece at Oxford in the late nineteen thirties (no, a fruit, not a computer, dummy), to remind him of the condition of Europe. Today we have our own comparable living-dying image to remind us of the state of this country. The telegraph reported recently that ash dieback is ‘now beyond containment’. There are some kinds of devastation from which the potential for any kind of recovery is hard to identify, and the loss too hard to contemplate. Don’t be surprised if the present government, or what passes for a government, goes down in history as the Dieback Administration. Now I think of it, that might make a decent title for a film. Ken Loach, you’re needed.

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