Reflections

The natural tendency of every government is to grow steadily worse – that is, to grow more satisfactory to those who constitute it and less satisfactory to those who support it

HL Mencken

I think that pretty much sums up where we're at as a party after last night -it's certainly a better reflection of the current situation than the obviously officially-sanctioned line that was being bandied about last night, the fiction that all our achievements over the last nine years have been overshadowed by a couple of weeks of bad press and which is lacking only the obvious coda: "…you ungrateful bunch of bastards!"

I'll get to the reshuffle a bit later on, its enough to say for the moment that it really doesn't look all that promising at the moment – splitting the Foreign Office to upgrade Buff's new job as Minister for Europe rather misses the point that the department that most desperately needs reorganising is the Home Office. Safety's taken the long walk, only to be replaced by John Reid – so no real change there… you get the picture. Little more than Blair circling the wagons and preparing to tough it out in defence of his precious 'legacy'.

One of the more revealing snippets of information to emerge from last night was an opinion poll which put us not only behind the Lib Dems but behind the Tories when it comes to being trusted to run the NHS – behind the Tories, for fuck's sake, how much worse can it get? Put everything to one side for a minute and just reflect on that – even allowing for the usual margin of error in opinion polls, we're now, at best, running neck and neck with the Conservative Party when it comes to being trusted to run one of the shining achievements of the Attlee government.

If you can hear a low-pitched hum in the background, don't worry – that's just the sound of Nye Bevan spinning in his grave at a couple of thousand RPM.

There's a simple lesson there – it doesn't matter how much you crow about the amount of money you've pumped into the NHS, closing wards and sacking nurse still looks fucking bad…

…and when it comes to local elections, its the simple lessons we need to be learning, the most basic of which is that we won't win elections unless we can cater for the basic needs of ordinary people.

When it comes to local government and the needs of local people there are no more than a half a dozen very basic things we need to get right and its from there that we need to move forward – and what are they? (I'm glad you asked).

A safe place to live – which means effective local policing that is accountable to local people.

A clean and decent place to live – the environment matters, not in terms of big issues like global warming, but the basics -are my bins collected on time? Is my street full of shit and litter. Is the local park safe, clean and well maintained?

A good local hospital and GP service – forget choice, forget endless reorganisations, forget targets, just a good local hospital and a GP they can see when they're ill, that's what people want.

A good local school – pretty much the same as above – who needs a choice of schools if you get you kids in the local one with no problems and they get a decent education.

A roof over your head – affordable housing and a strong social housing sector offering decent properties at fair rents.

A decent income and the basic dignity of a job or a decent pension.

    Leaving the last item to one side as that's a massive debate all on its own, the first five add up to a word that's been desperately out of fashion for a good few years but which, for me, still resonates and remains rich and full of meaning – municipalism.

    When it comes to local government, if there's one word we need to bring back in the party's vocabulary, then that's it, and that's where the debate has to start.

    Over the last thirty years we've seen successive governments, Tory and Labour, preside of over the diminution of local government, local democracy and local accountability and the steady and debilitating transfer of power and authority that rightly belongs to local people to Central Government, to Whitehall and the regional Government Offices and to no end of Quangos, initiatives and gimmicks – when it comes to local decisions bureaucracy has all but usurped the role of local democracy.

    It's time for us to reverse that trend – because if we can't start there then we really will be fucked as a party.

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