Tom Crewe describes the continuing attack against local democracy in the UK
There’s a stunning piece by Tom Crewe in the latest edition of the London Review Of Books. It’s called The Strange Death Of Municipal England and examines the way in which austerity is not only destroying the local roots of the welfare system but systematically subverting democracy at the same time.
Of course this subversion of local democracy has long been at the heart of Tory policy and was initiated by Thatcher. The scam of austerity has given the ideological assault on local democracy a suitable cover, that’s all, and one that looks set to be the final battle in the destruction of what was a proud and decent tradition of English local government.
Crewe’s article merits at least a second reading, partly because it is long and deeply researched, and partly because the accumulated evidence requires time and repetition to sink in.
One of the most telling parts of the piece is the stark contrast between cuts in wealthy and poorer areas. But my experience of living in a wealthier area indicates that even here what might be termed quality of life services are already cut to the bone. I’m talking park and kerb maintenance, for instance. There are streets here now that have so many weeds growing in the gutter that it looks like herb gardens are the new yellow lines.
Not exactly a core part of the welfare state but when a wealthy area can no longer maintain its streets, you can tell that child services and care for the old and sick will also be under pressure. In the poorer parts of the country, of course, caring services are not only under pressure but either pared to the bone or sold off to private companies. And we all know how well private companies care for people.
I’ll let Tom Crewe have the last word, where he ties in the assault on local government with the neoliberal ideology that underpins it:
The governing political philosophy of the last 35 years has held that the market is best placed to provide for the needs of the people. Local government has been divested of much of its power and independence, leaving the gap between the public and their government to be bridged by private companies, if at all.. But it has only ensured that richer Britons are taxed less and poorer ones obliged to spend a much larger proportion of their income on goods they could once have for a fraction of the price. In 1981, rent for a council property absorbed less than 7 per cent of an average income; in 2015, for a private tenancy, the figure was 52 per cent (72 per cent in London), far higher than anywhere else in Europe.