Book News: January 16th, 2003

By David Walker.Localism is currently all the rage among policy “wonks” and cerebral politicians, and is coming to be seen as a “new consensus” in British politics as Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats all push competing variants of a similar theme. The creation of quasi-autonomous “Foundation Hospitals” and the loosening of financial controls on local government are examples of new localism. Labour has come in for criticism from some quarters for not “letting go” enough, and still being wedded to a “command and control” regime of performance targets and inspectorates emanating from central government. Now a leftwing thinktank has come to the defence of the “control freaks” with a pamphlet arguing that a centralised mechanisms of standards monitoring and resource allocation are often essential to achieving basic goals of fairness and equality. In praise of centralism argues that in recent history progressive policies have largely flowed from central initiatives while local politics have more often than not been “the homeground of reaction”. It warns that while devolving power and decision-making from the centre always sounds good, there are hard questions to be asked about whether this is a genuinely radical or, in some contexts, ultimately conservative agenda.

Published by Catalyst. ISBN 1904508014; 32pp; Price 5 pounds.