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Matt Wright: Localism as a new Unionism?

Matt_wright Cllr Matt Wright, candidate for Vale of Clwyd, argues that England should learn from Wales and devolve more powers to a local level rather than having national or regional assemblies.

Any assessment of what we should do next with the botched state of the Union should begin with the people of the Union. The debate goes far beyond just the West Lothian question or the Barnett formula. We have a duty as a responsible party to rise above the partisan games that characterised Labour devolution plans and ultra-nationalist responses.

Nurses, teachers and policemen are weighed down by state interference and target chasing; councils and their constituents are both, paradoxically, frustrated - subject to the same Stalinist control from the centre, as nurses, teachers and bobbies. Communities feel powerless to do quite simple things and voters are increasingly alienated. These conditions exist across the Union and in each constituent parts of the Union under London, Cardiff and Holyrood. The great irony is the degree to which all levels from Community Councillors, County Councillors, AMs, MPs through to MEPs, are all running around chasing similar issues and feeling frustrated that they can't really deliver the solutions they would like to see.

Take just one example. It was thought here in Wales that policy makers in London would get out a map of the country and inflict laws on Wales without any real understanding of the terrain, the culture and language or a myriad of other factors. I'm afraid to say this perception was all too often true and it didn't just apply to Governments. The Assembly was meant to heal some of this and in some senses it has. Yet one of the biggest issues in North Wales at the moment - a story that has run for weeks - is that a Labour and Plaid led Welsh Assembly Government is proposing that neurosurgery patients travel to South Wales (a 9 hr round trip) instead of to Walton hospital in Merseyside. Incidentally it would actually be quicker to go to London, a 2.5 hr train ride from Rhyl in my constituency. I call that the "West Rhyl Question".

I often think that if those so keen on an English Assembly saw what Labour's form of devolved government is actually like they wouldn't be in such a hurry to copy it. I also wonder at what different parts of England would make of yet another layer of bureaucracy, expenses and distant rule. Where would an English government be? If it were in York, what would Cornwall make of it? If it were in Birmingham, what would Sunderland make of it? People across England must decide but they already have structures of government in England at county level and at Westminster which should be made to work efficiently and effectively for them. I did not favour the regional government agenda of Prescott. The fact that it came from Prescott was almost bad enough but it also came from the EU federalists and it was cock-eyed - there is no logical identity, scale, form or manageable accountability to "North West England" or any of the other contrived regions imposed by Brussels bureaucrats.

Conservatives believe in freedom and responsibility and a key ingredient of that mix is choice - real choice, not false options - with people empowered, equipped and able to improve their communities. I believe that for the most part decisions are better made as close to the people as possible, at county and community level and wherever possible by families and individuals themselves. It's also true of business and we are great believers in responsible free enterprise and aspiration. True devolution is at the heart of centre-right thinking.

Obviously not all decisions are best made at the local level - defence, the economy and foreign policy immediately come to mind. Here we must ask ourselves do the people of our shared islands want some form of Union. I think they do. I think presented with the arguments they want to work together and if asked specifically would vote for a Union. Most certainly it is true here in Wales. If there were no Union and had never been one, I think people would want to work together and I think people would be saying wouldn't it be a good idea if we had one. That being so they have a right to return representative members of parliament to Westminster to work together on those big issues.

So the real question is, in the interests of the people, what powers should be exercised at what tier of government, remembering that there have always been several tiers of government in Britain. As I have argued there are more things that could and should be done closer to people at the county and community level but there remain things that should be done at the national-regional level (in the example of Wales) and at the level of the Union. What we should be doing is instituting proper devolution as the first principle and starting point. The key driver of empowerment should be at community and county level. With the boot back on the voters foot and those electors seeing that their concerns can be properly addressed, people will feel more comfortable about sending representatives to higher tiers of Govt, wherever they are.


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