Headlines: May 31st, 2007



The chair of the Labour Party, Hazel Blears, has called for any future extension of state funding for political parties to encourage activity at local level to end the slide towards a position where ‘people in local politics are increasingly viewed as a quirky anachronism”. Ms Blears, who’s one of the candidates for the deputy leadership of her party, said Government needed to devolve more powers to a local level as a step to getting back in touch with people.

In a speech to the New Local Government Network she called for a strong defence of politics and said parties had been undermined by what she called a cynical media and the rise of fringe parties.” She called for changes in citizenship education to encompass modern politics and she said people who were newly-arrived in Britain should be taught about its political structure.

She said state funding should be used to support political parties locally but she wanted political billboard advertising to be banned. “Any future extension of state funding of parties must be used to encourage local activity and campaigning, political education, policy-making, and support for the next generation of councillors and civic leaders.

She added any new settlement of state funding for parties had to be seen as a worthwhile investment in democracy, especially at local council level, rather than taxpayers being asked to prop up a failing system. “Investment should be targeted at a regional and local level, so that state funding is not consumed by central party machines, but instead can aid local party units to build local democracy,” she said, arguing that central government had to embrace greater decentralisation and more powers for local authorities if it was to re-engage with the public.

Ms Blears said local government should have more influence in areas such as public health and well-being and that everyone should be given a real sense of power over aspects of their lives from the NHS to when their bins were emptied and from the operation of a local police force to planning decisions such as whether or not a new superstore could be built. She also backed a review of the law that prohibits council staff above a certain grade from being active in local politics.