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The dark facts of government appear to have dimmed David Cameron’s sunny optimism about localism

By Peter Hoskin
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The last Tory manifesto made much of what it called “collaborative democracy” — pushing power away from Westminster and towards the public, whether to individuals or to local communities. This restless form of localism was also an area of easy overlap with the Liberal Democrats. And so a great deal was expected of the Coalition.

And yet the progress of “collaborative democracy” has not been what we might have hoped. This is true in both the round (as Nadhim Zahawi MP admitted in a post for ConHome this week, “I know I'm not the only Member of Parliament to have been let down by Localism in action”) and in the case of specific headline policies. Plans for directly-elected mayors were stymied by immense public indifference. And there are signs that the police commissioners agenda is, as Janan Ganesh put it in his Financial Times column (£) this week, “another good idea let down by neglect”.

Which is why David Cameron’s comments to the Times (£) today are worth noting, despite their brevity.  He concentrates on police commissioners, and basically admits that the policy is — in electoral terms, at least — unlikely to get off to an explosive start:

“‘It takes time if you have a new role, it will take time to get going,’ Mr Cameron told The Times. ‘It’s always difficult when there’s a new post, trying to get people to turn out and vote in an age of cynicism and apathy, it’s difficult. That doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do.’”

And then he moves on to directly-elected mayors:  

“He also signalled that the next Tory manifesto would include a commitment to legislate for directly elected city mayors without the idea having to win approval in a referendum first.”

Both snippets are a remarkable turnaround from the rhetoric of that 2010 manifesto; which was, don’t forget, sold as an Invitation to Join the Government of Britain, and seemed to be predicated on the notion that people are desperate to take up that offer. Now Mr Cameron talks instead about “cynicism and apathy”, and seems to have diluted his commitment to bringing about localist ends by localist means. So, don’t be surprised if the next manifesto reads differently.


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