Melanie Phillips

28 April 2003

Parent power and public service

Published in: Daily Mail

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Local democracy is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, we haven't got it. What we've got instead is a constitutional porridge, and millions of implacably hacked-off voters.

On Thursday, England's voters outside London go to the polls to elect their local councillors. The usual auction of advance excuses is under way. So we are told the Iraq war may temporarily obstruct otherwise slavish devotees of government policy from casting their vote for Labour councils; while the Tories have announced ridiculously low expectations, so that anything above total meltdown can be talked up as a stunning advance.

The real winner, however, may once again be the abstention party as voters stay away. They feel their vote counts for nothing. It is not merely that the quality of council services such as schools or road repairs gets progressively worse, even though council tax bills have almost doubled over the past ten years.

More fundamentally, local democracy is not really local at all. Central government has long pulled local authorities' strings by providing most of their money and calling the tunes the council pipers have to play.

As a result, each side blames the other for the inadequacy of council services. The total absence of transparency has made it all but impossible for the ordinary voter to determine where the real responsibility lies.

A prime example is the current school funding debacle. A survey by head teachers is expected to claim this week that three quarters of schools are suffering a budget crisis. They are being forced to cut classes and lay off teachers; timetables may be reduced, and children may be sent home.

The Education Secretary Charles Clarke insists that councils have failed to allocate

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

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Contact Melanie

Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
Northcliffe House
2 Derry Street
London W8 5TT

Contact Melanie