There now seems to be a dominant discourse in British Politics that wants to rebalance power so it is more localised than centralised. However, this discourse has a central theme of contradiction, as there is a disjuncture between rhetoric and policies regarding localisation. It is true to say that the Tories do fair the worst in regards to this contradiction, however, all three parties have examples of the contradiction within their discourse.
The Tories have a low level of democratic decision making in terms of their policy ideas, with their polices largely determined by think tanks and their leadership. Indeed, there have been comments and concerns by Tories themselves around the close relationship that Osborne and Cameron share, which excludes important people from key decisions. This is one of the many examples that illustrates that despite the Tory rhetoric of localisation there is a dominant practice of centralisation. You only have to look at a recent speech by Cameron regarding localisation, democracy and power, where Cameron states we need a “massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power”, to see an example of the rhetorical stance the Tories have on localisation.
Whilst the discourse of localisation has become more prominent in contemporary politics it has been around for a long time, as have the relating contradictions. For example, Thatcher wanted people to gain more power and control over their life’s, as shown by her council house policy – however, again, once looked at closer, her line of approach is riddled with contradictions. For example, look at the introduction of the National Curriculum, or how schools were allowed to drop out of local governmental control. There is also the example the Greater London Council, where Thatcher wanted to centralise the decisions around what she seemed to be moral issues even further after the body (rightly) promoted the minority groups’ needs in society.
Labour on the other hand has a long history of wanting strong state control and centralisation. However, now the mantra for all parties is that localisation is needed to achieve democracy, which I do agree with. However, Labour are again a beaming example of the contradiction inherent within their new approach, maybe the conflict of their long history of centralisation makes this worse, but you only have to look at law and order polices to see the problems with their localisation approach. The polices that they actually use to demonstrate their localisation dream are little more than tokenism.
For example, they brought in a scheme that allowed the local people to decide if they wanted those doing community service to wear orange jackets. This only serves as a stigmatisation policy, and does little to help direct the criminals away from a life full of crime. There is also the ability of local people to choose the punishments they want for the criminals, again, this is just little more than a gimmick, and shows how whilst they promise localisation the way in which they give the power is contradicting, as it does little to actually help improve democracy. The Labour government is riddled by centralisation, as shown by the plans and implementation of big brother databases, Brown’s ‘ladette culture’, Blair’s ‘sofa government’ and disregard of Iraq war protests.
Whilst the Liberal Democrats have been ahead in many of the issues regarding localisation, the events around the ‘aspirations’ controversy last week shows that we are not above the inherent contradictions within the localisation discourse. Even though we do have arguably the most democratic structure for deciding policy, the leadership was shown to override the FPC and the general view of the members over key polices such as tuition fees and call them little more than ‘aspirations’. This shows how the centralised ways of our leadership have taken key decisions into their own hands, even though they know this goes against the wishes of the people who have elected them.
Whilst the discourse of localisation is needed and quite rightly promoted, there needs to be considerations around the inherent contradictions that all three parties face when using it. The Tories arguably are the worst in regard to the contradictions as they have a long history of ideologically committing to a position regarding limited state control but are shown to be increasingly centralised in their decision making process. Labour’s change from wanting less state intervention contradicts with their long-standing strands of centralisation, and so when localisation is carried out it is often tokenism. Whereas the Liberal Democrats are the most localised in their approach, and have the most democracy within decision-makings, however, recent events show how we are not immune to the contradictions within the discourse of localisation.