Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell are today’s most prominent torchbearers for Localism. It was Simon Jenkins’ 2004 paper for Policy Exchange that launched a coherent case for Localism, and this was followed by the founding of Direct Democracy in 2005 and a series of recommendations from Helena Kennedy’s Power Inquiry from 2006, but it was in 2008, with Hannan and Carswell’s ‘The Plan’ that the first serious attempt came to place Localism at the heart of a Party manifesto. Cameron’s response to the pair was dismissive, and he adopted in place of the caucus of recommendations a sort of Cameroonian Localism Lite™ – tastes like Localism but with none of the calories.
So whilst an opinion piece in the Telegraph from Hannan and Carswell criticising Cameron’s Localism may be hardly surprising, it carries some weight. They find two major obstructions to meaningful reform, which I have also highlighted consistently on my own blog. First is the entrenched opposition of the senior civil service – the Mandarins – to any loss of central power. Everything they’ve done has been with the aim of placing all the policy levers of State at the heart of Whitehall like some monstrous signal-box, as though the country was running a war economy, and they won’t loosen their grip a nanometer. Second is Cameron and Osborne’s own refusal to devolve tax powers.
I know many of you will equate the notion of tax with that of bondage, but our liberty requires not no taxes but low taxes; the army must be paid, the courts must be maintained, diplomats must be kept in foreign capitals and the nation’s air traffic controllers must seek to prevent aircraft from falling out of the sky all over the country. Some things can’t be local, and must be managed and revenue collected at a national level. Most everything else can be local.
The Treasury relies on the findings of the Lyons Enquiry to oppose the case for local taxation; Lyons said taxes could never be economically collected on other than a national scale. It’s a nonsense. A lie. Utterly mistaken. You’ve only to look to Switzerland or the US where a variety of taxes and duties are levied and collected locally far more efficiently than the Leviathan and incompetent HMRC can do. Then there’s the bogeyman argument; giving tax powers to a local area ruled by a corrupt ethnic group will lead to fraud and peculation akin to that in Dhaka or Karachi, and only the central State can be trusted to be honest. Ha! Yes, of course a corrupt council can steal the tax money and fail to provide services, but this will be self-regulating. Residents and businesses will move out, people won’t pay their taxes, the criminals will be caught and prosecuted.