The endless battles over Brexit mean that few politicians are “seriously engaged” in thinking about “how the world might look after our departure”. It’s time they started. “Simmering resentment with the power of Whitehall” could well ensure that it becomes the next target of “a growing urge to take back control”. In terms of taxes, the UK is by far the most centralised country in the Western world: only about 5% of tax revenues are raised locally, compared with nearly three times that amount in France, and a near 50-50 split in Canada and the US between federal and municipal taxes. Campaigners want change, arguing that “true local power requires the devolution of tax and spending to go hand in hand”, and that local government should also be handed “substantial regulatory control”. At present, local discretion over policies, from land planning to public health, is minimal, “and the ability to liberalise, rather than tighten, rules is almost non-existent”. No wonder we are seeing a “popular rebellion against opaque and concentrated political power”: we need “a new constitutional deal within the United Kingdom”. (Mark Littlewood, The Times, August 2018)
Amen to that! The rot started with Thatcher, who objected to a local democracy that diluted her power. Since her time things have become steadily worse, until it is barely worthwhile standing for local councils because they have no influence. The power has passed to the rich and the corporations, and to a giddying succession of incompetent Whitehall ministers.
It is.time for the people to seize back control. Unfortunately, assuming that Brexit goes through (this week’s Salzburg EU meeting suggests the real threat of “no deal”, mainly over the status of Northern Ireland), it is more likely that an extremist right-wing Tory cabal will attempt to seize power and centralise even further. The British people expressed dissatisfaction with the status quo in the Brexit referendum. Unfortunately they were voting on the wrong issue with the wrong government in charge. The problem isn’t Brussels; it is London.