As I've just posted over on my blog for my county council candidacy, Eric Pickles should **** off following his comments today (well actually I said he should butt out as one has to moderate one's language in official communications). And, since I haven't posted on here for a while, I'm crossposting my post here as well:
Today Eric Pickles MP, the Tory Communities and Local Government Secretary, has said that local councils in England are “dodging democracy” by increasing council tax without holding referendums and should “man up” about it.
Now aside from the casual sexism in the use of the phrase ‘man up’ which implies that only men are capable of making tough decisions, the fact is that Eric Pickles clearly doesn’t understand the first thing about democracy.
Local government has power over local services which are funded by a local tax called council tax. The operative word here being “local”. That’s why local people elect local councillors to run local government on their behalf. 340,000 people voted in the last county council elections here in Surrey and they elected our current council by a voting system which Eric Pickles supports.
And when we voted for our county councillors we knew that the county council (and our borough councils) have the power to set the rate of council tax. In fact, the parties in the elections campaigned on very specific manifesto promises on council tax increases. So our council has a democratic mandate to decide whether to increase council taxes or not.
None of us, however, voted for Eric Pickles. He didn’t stand for MP in this part of the country. And even where he did stand he got less than 29,000 votes. He only represents 90,000 people. Surrey County Council represents over a million people.
Now I don’t want to see council tax goes up. There’s no need for it to go up in Surrey as we’ve got large reserves and plenty of waste that could be cut before any kind of council tax increase is needed. And until that’s done then the Conservative administration has absolutely no excuse to raise council tax. But, if they decide to increase it then it’s within their authority to do so and they will be accountable for that decision to the electorate and I will be proud to defend their right to increase council tax even though I’ll also be out campaigning against the decision because I disagree with it.
Because local government exists for a reason. It is government that is funded by local people and accountable to local people. How it is run should be decided by democratically elected local representatives and not some authoritarian cretin in Whitehall. For Eric Pickles is most definitely a cretin if he’s saying that it’s undemocratic for democratically elected councillors to use their democratically accountable powers. The operative word being democratic here.
A charitable person might argue that Mr Pickles genuinely believes that representative democracy is flawed and that we should have more referendums in this country rather than leaving things up to representatives who are only elected once every four or five years. That would be a perfectly valid viewpoint. But that’s most definitely not what Eric Pickles believes because he’s voted in parliament for and against major changes in tax rates without once arguing for a referendum on them. And I can just imagine what he’d say to me if I told him we should have a referendum on the decisions he’s making as Secretary of State for Local Government.
So for him to dare try and bully local councils by calling them undemocratic just for doing things he happens not to like is disgraceful. And by saying it he merely reveals himself to be a hypocrite of the lowest order. Not to mention that he has a hideously authoritarian approach to local government worthy of Stalinism.
In fact, with all due respect to the right honourable so and so, he should butt out and stop trying to control things where he has no authority to do so. And I sincerely hope that someone points this out to him the next time he starts waffling on about being a champion of “localism”.