It seems to be on the lips of every Tory politician, whispered in the corridors of their recent conference and at every gathering, and talked about with the growing bravado of an ageing matador. It is a trendy word with all the buzz of a New Labour catch-phrase, trotted out by politicians who look so alike that their political affiliation can only be seen by the colour of their necktie.
The new word, often spoken with great resolution and much gusto is… localism.
It is the kind of word that at first glance has little meaning, probably thought up over a late night Chardonnay in the sleepy apartments of Notting Hill. To be correct, localism should describe political philosophies that support local production and consumption of goods, local control and promotion of local identity. But, on the backbenches of Parliament, localism means something very different.
With the coming of a radical piece of legislation in the same vein as the Big Society, the coalition intends to bring to the country a law that will change the way we look at life and appreciate the places in which we live.
Within months, it will establish what the Government calls a “community right to challenge”, to help different groups run local services. It would allow local groups and local people to have a direct say in matters that concern them. Soon it will be possible for empty pubs, libraries and shops to be bought by local groups and put to good use. Locals will be able to designate local properties as being on their “wish list”. If these buildings became available, locals would be given a chance to develop a bid and raise the money so they could be used for the benefit of the community. This is local, local, local all the way – using the word more in one sentence than a frantic Yorkshireman unable to find his favourite pub.
This is the one piece of coalition policy that I have actually become excited about. I have long wanted more power for the regions, and believe that if it’s good enough for Scotland then it is good enough for Yorkshire. But what the much talked-about word of localism does for each one of us is give us the prospect of real power.
Councils, police and fire authorities that seek an increase in council tax beyond the ceiling set by Government would automatically face a referendum of all registered voters in their area. And it doesn’t end there.
People would have the right to trigger a local referendum on issues that matter. Even though the results would not be binding, it would certainly make those in power think before they do something we disagree with. Imagine the people of Whitby being able to take Scarborough Council to task over the state of the pier. Would those historic extensions be allowed to have fallen into such disrepair if we had had this legislation months ago?
It would allow us to give a clear signal to the Chief of Police about the way we want to see our laws enforced – and if we wanted a democratically-elected Mayor, instead of the flawed ‘Leader and Cabinet’ dictate we have now.
I am enthralled by the idea that localism will bring an end to the stupid Climate Change Act 2008 measures that would have allowed councils to charge “pay as you throw”. No longer will they be able to consider weighing my household waste and charging me for it.
Common sense also prevails as regional housing strategies that would have seen the building of three million homes will now be scrapped, as the Localism Bill will remove the stupid legislation which set it up. Could this finally bring hope for the people of Scalby who are having a vast estate built on pristine green fields in an area of natural beauty? Much to the chagrin of building firms, it will be people who can decide what they want to see developed in their area.
Gone will be a national plan with its one-size fits all approach to planning. It will stop houses being built in the wrong places and allow local need to come to the fore. If people in a rural area need affordable housing for locals then they will be able to get it, despite the draconian protectionism of the national parks. Farmers may eventually be able to afford to live in the areas that they work.
As I write I am deeply optimistic that at last this coalition is doing something worthwhile.
Localism may be a new Tory buzz word that will replace Dave’s constant use of the phrase Big Society. It is a welcome change, as finally I feel that it actually has some substance.
There is a real prospect that the wishes of the people rather than the desires of Whitehall will be the things that matter. Power really does seem to be filtering down into the hands of the people.
“Whatever next?” I ask myself in disbelief. Will Dave even come to the realisation that localism also means giving us the right for a simple referendum of Yes/No over our place in Europe? That would make us truly local, and truly free.