Eric Pickles: Honouring sacrifice of everyday heroes

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I’M old enough to have had grandfathers who served in the First World War. One in the Navy, one in the Army.

Edgar Pickles was a soldier, one of the “pals” that came out of the mill towns. He looked a bit like me – handsome chap!

That great man who brought so much laughter into my youth was wounded at the Battle of the Somme and carried a disability with him for the rest of his days.

In this year of the centenary of the start of the Great War, my thoughts often drift back to what it must have been like for my grandparents.

We want to honour the dead and their sacrifice, but we also want to remember those who survived the trenches and came home, raised children and
worked hard to make our country what it
is today.

Across Government, we’ve organised many projects to make sure we never forget their sacrifice: battlefield tours for schools, displays exhibitions and simple acts of remembrance.­

In my department, we are very proud that over the next four years, councils across the country will be laying paving stones in every community where a Victoria Cross hero lived.

Some will be next to memorials, but most will be a paving stone on the road where the VC hero lived.

Why have we done it? To show in the clearest possible way that out of ordinary streets and ordinary lives come extraordinary people.

As Communities Secretary, I see every week that it is people of courage that make this country what it is – whether it is a community leader that speaks out against extremism and sectarian division or those who refused to be cowed by anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred.

It is those people alongside our institutions of liberty and rule of law that makes this country.

As an Englishman, I am proud to be part of the United Kingdom, of which Scotland is a vibrant and powerful partner.

After the referendum result, without holding back on more devolved powers for Scotland, the case for fairness for England must be heard in parallel.

In the mother of Parliaments, we can’t have Platinum Card-wielding Scottish MPs who can vote for measures in English constituencies, but not in their own Scottish seats.

If I vote for changes to the NHS or schools or housing, I have to bear the consequences of my vote. I have to look the electorate in the eye and justify my actions.

Not so the Scottish MPs, who have power without responsibility in England. And as we all know – power without responsibility never ends well. So the time has come for change – the time
has come for English votes on English laws.

We can be proud that a Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, is determined to deliver fairness to England and to all of the nations of the United Kingdom.

Of course, it’s no surprise that Labour don’t get it. After all it was my department, under John Prescott, who thought the electorate would be palmed off with regional government. The public saw right through an empty offer and decisively rejected it.

Whatever the problem, any solution that involves taxpayers funding more politicians is definitely not the answer. We want equality for England. Labour want jobs for the boys!

In contrast to Labour’s top down control, my purpose in Government has been bring power to the people.

Devolution is not about new names for old quangos but real power to real communities. And that is what we have achieved:

Whether it’s by freezing council tax, and handing the public the final say on council tax rises;

Giving power and decisions to people, such as neighbourhood plans so local communities can shape the places where they live;

Enabling councils to share services, and management to cut costs;

Reducing the size of government.

We’ve carried this through even
 in my own department where
we’ve reduced the workforce by 60 per cent.

Just this summer, we have even handed back the keys of our old expensive offices, and I’m now hot-desking with Theresa May at the Home Office to save taxpayers £9m a year. Real savings. That is what we promised, that is what we delivered.