Thursday, November 16, 2006


Will Local Government Promises in Queen's Speech be Fulfilled?

Simon Hoggart was right when he described the Queen seeming 'wearier than ever' as, at the centre of the pomp and boring ritual, she read out her prepared collection of new Labour cliches. Actually I felt more sorry for the poor old Duke of Edinburgh who twisted and fidgeted on his nearby seat like a schoolboy dying for the playtime bell. Michael White today looks back to the 1997 Queen's Speech and picks out those few promises which were fulfilled- Devolution, Independence for the Bank of England,'high and stable levels of economic growth' and those- education, NHS etc- where we are still waiting.

Scanning the 30 or so proposed bills my eye alighted on the local government bit. Here we are promised, according to the Guardian: 'new powers for all levels of local government from parish councils to the mayor of London'. Parish councils will be given the freedom to 'create bylaws and impose instant fines'. I just wonder why I'm a bit cynical about promises to devolve more power down to the local government? Once Town and City Halls wielded the power which their splendid exteriors bespoke(see Manchester's pictured). But during the last century we saw councils stripped of functions, subjected to constant, disorientating reform and brought under the centralizing control of the Treasury to the extent that 80 percent of their finance now derives from general taxation and not the local council tax payer.

This means that in many areas local government acts merely as an agent for the centre and that room for local initiative is severely limited. It would seem that compared with much of Europe, we have an over centralized system which finds it hard to truly engage with voters and to attract the platoons of socially committed candidates for council service which used to be the case. Scanning through the literature from local parties at election times it seems(although I know there is much more to it) the issues at hand are limited to things like traffic calming, litter(which on Stockport's filthy streets never improves) and occasional planning applications.

I sincerely hope government does become more local and that we can and will relate more enthusiastically to revived parish and other councils. But I've heard this kind of promise too many times from too many governments to be impressed; I suspect the reality will prove the rhetoric of the Queen's Speech to be just that.

It's ok to say parish councils will have these powers, but then it's always hard in my experience to find local people who want to fulfil these posts. Maybe having some gravitas behind them will make them more interested in local politics.
"those- education, NHS etc- where we are still waiting"

So all those extra nurses, doctors, teaching assistants, reduced waiting lists, nursery school places, NHS infrastructure and re-built schools are a complete waste of nine years then eh?!
I think the NHS has improved- though polls show most of the public do not- but I was merely quoting Michael White's views in that bit of my post.
Very nice picture of the town hall. For a moment I thought it was St Pancras.
Very good Hughsie, could almost have been Sir Humphrey there. "Government isn't there to achieve results minister. No just activity". We have heard it all before about nurses and doctors and the rest, and we seem to be paying for it in our tax bills. But most people lack the genius of our Nu Labor masters in spoting the improvement. If only we were worthy of your great party(!). Spending money isn't enough, people want actual PROGRESS, and unless Blair and the other Peerage vendors get that through their thick skulls then opposition awaits them.
My own experience of the NHS has been excellent and much better recently than when I was left on a trolley overnight following my stroke in 1992. Most people I talk to report similar things and polls show personal experience gives the services high ratings. However the same people give it low ratings overall, maybe because their perceptions are influenced by other factors like negative tabloid stories. (I'm now bracing myself for Michael O's assault...)
Oh contraire Skipper, you are absolutely right. But I remember EXACTLY the same discussion during the Major years. When people were asked of their experiences of public services, they were positive. When asked of the overall state, they said it was poor. Labour took advantage then, and can only expect to reap the whirlwind now.

As for the "assault", I am surprised at you Skipper. The only people who come out with such flannel are the type of people who can't sustain their views in argument.

At risk of repeating myself, there is a risk when basing your political views on a single experience(but then we have been through this before). For what it is worth(ie not much), I have found the NHS to be crap under both of the last Governments, and I long dreamt of the day where I wouldn't have to use it.
The reason I wrote that was that I felt blaming the media was too feeble a defence to stand up to rigorous argument- though maybe it's stronger than I initially anticipated. The media loves stories about NHS mistakes and mismanagement and this must colour perceptions of the service as a whole.
May I add that I once experienced the US medical system when my wife was taken in in New Orleans in 1996. Every single thing about it was dominated by money and I despaired at how ordinary people of modest means managed to survive a service catering essentially for the monied middle classes.
I have to say I agree with Skipper here- the problem is that the NHS always has to meet an impossible target- keeping people alive and so is always liable to fail. The question is relative- is it better than it was before and it seems by all indications that it is doing more to cure patients than it was.
Yes the only difference with the American system - apart from the better care - is that you see what you pay for. The NHS is "better" in that robs its victims from their wage packets. As for everything being about is. Wishing it away, or in the case of the NHS, PRETENDING it isn't, just doesn't fool anyone. Things have to be paid for, welcome to the real world.
Presumably you would extend the same welcome to the 48 million people who cannot afford medical insurance in the USA- up 6 million since Bush came into power....?
Who says they can't afford healthcare? Them? Well they would if people are seriously suggesting Government should pay for it. Yes Skipper I would make them pay for it. Why should anyone be forced to pay for another's healthcare? If you do, go it to America if it makes you feel good. I suspect the market would provide a cheaper level of care to cater for this new market.
I know you are immune to argument on such matters but I'm still trying to nuture posibly compassionate feelings for other people in your heart, so here goes. When my wife had an X ray on her throat and had one short consultation we were charged $1000. While waiting for the Xray a nurse asked her if she would like a lozenge for her throat. When the bill came we were charged $1.60 for the lozenge. Now, I'm not sure the 'market' in the USA is offering treatment all that cheaply- are you? How on earth can people on the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour afford to pay such charges? Would you just let people die in their own homes or on the roads when in accidents?
Like Groundhog Day...

YES Skipper I would have a free market for healthcare. YES!!

Why should I, or any other poor afflicted hardworking taxpayer have to pay for your wife's lozenger?! Get real. The 1000 US Dollars you mention does not surprise me. As every taxpayer will testify, healthcare is very expensive.

I am fortunate that I don't have to pay this racket in Britain. I am also fortunate that when I went for an operation last month, I had it done in a clean hospital, with no wait. It was also very cheap. But then things are usually better when the Government isn't involved.

I am sure such a throat treatment costs just as much in the UK. The only difference being that you have to wait for ages in a filthy hospital, deal with doctors who often can not speak English, and then contract MRSA. Vive la NHS!

I am not interested in how people pay for their healthcare. I don't even care if they go without medical's their life and I respect their right to choose. But I do resent paying a fortune for a Soviet style healthcare system that employs a million people, provides the worst care in the world, and poisons a fair few of them. So yes, if people don't buy insurance, then the public should not be victimised by being made to pay for their stupidity. I suspect only a few people would have to die before this point was made.

How many people get MRSA in American hospitals? Bet it's fewer than our cesspits!
Your views are so depressingly familiar and objectonable that there is clearly little point in us battering at each other's closed doors. But on the last point you make you may be interested in this link- which will will inform you of a current epidemic of MRSA in the USA.
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