Friday, May 02, 2008
Bring our politics home!
One of the political principles I believe in firmly is that of subsidiarity, which is the guiding principle that matters ought to be handled by the lowest competent authority . So, as I've previously written, I believe that hospitals and schools ought to be administered by local councils rather than by central government. And actually, once that's been achieved, a manifesto calling for human services to be made independent of local politicians (through an educational voucher scheme, for example) would get a very big tick against it.But why? And importantly, why do I think it ought to be up to local communities to make a decision which could just as easily be made from Whitehall?It's a question of power. According to modern, Western socio-political theory, the state exists as a product of the national community, and its power derives from the people. Town halls, likewise, have an authority which derives from the people, and not—crucial point—Whitehall.Therefore, it is local people—local users of these services—who should decide about the running of their services. Whitehall has, over the decades, expropriated power from town halls and arrogated to itself not only the funding but also the operational control over education, health and other key services such as policing and prisons.So if local councils ought to be the forum for deciding how these services are administered, what about the money? What is necessary is that local councils' taxation powers be greatly widened. The only tax local councils can directly control is the council tax, which is deeply unpopular and I can understand why. National government needs to cut as much of its council budget as it can and restore the power to levy a wide range of taxes to the local councils. This will have numerous benefits, the two most obvious of which are tax efficiency and tax competition; the spread of innovation is another which is quite obvious. Yes, I'm basically proposing bringing the rigours of the market into local government taxation and service provision. And I think it might just work.Last time I wrote about local government, I plugged the Liberal Democrats' The Power to be Different. I'd also like to flag up the Conservative Direct Democracy UK, which is a movement within the Tory party (more active a few years ago, but still going) to bring them back to a more localist form of politics, proposing many things in common with the Liberal Democrats, although not altogether the same. I actually hold to a stronger version, which is that all matters ought to be handled by the smallest competent authority, which is to say that all levels of government ought also to be slimmed down. But that's another matter altogether.