Local elections: Illogical to take it out on central government - Bernard Ingham

Politicians are all a-twitch.

This is mid-term in a national government. Tomorrow is local elections day. Ministers, Frontbenchers and MPs are in the dog house over illicit boozing during lockdowns and a whole variety allegations from misogyny and bullying to watching porn in the chamber.

We are up to our ears in debt just when the international situation demands vast spending on defence and a cost of living crisis is hurting the elderly and low paid.

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Ergo, the Tories are in for drubbing at the polls tomorrow and braced for an 800-seat bloodbath even though one poll puts Labour only three points ahead.

Local elections take place on Thursday.Local elections take place on Thursday.
Local elections take place on Thursday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson could even be for the high jump.

This is the familiar but flawed logic behind elections at this stage in the national political cycle.

But it is neither intelligent nor objective.

I recognise the human tendency to box a Westminster government’s ears mid-term and the downright pleasure it can give the voter.

Politicians always need to be reminded who is boss.

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But tomorrow we are not choosing a Westminister government but local councillors responsible for setting our soaring rates and running public services.

It is entirely illogical to take it out on central government. Instead, we should be stocking our town halls with local politicians of all parties who demonstrate a sense of public duty and a recognition of their responsibility for spending our money wisely.

It is not as if local government were clothed in white raiment.

One recent poll suggests that opinion is evenly divided over whether they provide value for money.

This even division of opinion is surprising.

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There are regular complaints of environmental zealotry that is causing acute congestion and greenhouse gas pollution by narrowing roads to create ill-used cycle lanes and encourage motorists to leave their cars at home – regardless of the economic plight of town centres.

There are frequent complaints of loose local spending, especially on vanity projects, and the wokerati are hard at work in town halls to impose their narrow will on the populace.

But perhaps the worst local government sin of all is to blame central government for any lack of “resources”, regardless of whether they are hoarding government money intended to help local economies.

This sin is not new. It caused Margaret Thatcher to introduce the community charge – otherwise known as the poll tax – under which all residents and not just a minority would contribute to the cost of running the council.

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The idea was that, if the vast mass of people are taxed, they will be a lot more careful who they vote for.

It proved to be unpopular at a time of rising inflation and was soon dropped but the problem remains.

National never local government is to blame for a shortage of cash, even as now when, thanks to Covid, we are running a £300bn budget deficit.

Yet the Government did not bring the pandemic down on our heads.

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It has hit all countries severely and not least China where it started and remains rife.

Nor did I hear many complaints about its spending vast amounts of money on protecting jobs during the pandemic.

I am not arguing that the outbreak was uniformly well handled.

We were taken to the cleaners by fraudsters over the supply of personal protection equipment. Test and trace was anything but a success and the release of Covid patients into care homes for the vulnerable shocking.

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But the Government did win the race out of the worst of the pandemic through a highly successful vaccination programme that has saved many lives.

Nor can the Government be reasonably accused of encouraging Vladimir Putin brutally to invade Ukraine, even though our armed forces are run down. Instead, Boris is a hero in the eyes of the Ukraine government for his role in rallying international support.

The Government can be condemned for the extent to which working from home was accepted until Efficiency Minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg got shirty.

But working from home still seems to be as prevalent in local government, regardless of its effect on services.

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As one who once tried to be elected a member of Leeds City Council, you may think I now have it in for local government.

In one sense, I do.

My own Labour-controlled Croydon Council is in debt to the tune of £1.5bn. Council tax on my bungalow will this year cost me well over £2,000.

I want people who will give me value for money. Don’t you?