by Tom Davidson
This review is unique as far as I am concerned, since it is the only time I have reviewed a book which has been dedicated to me (as well as to Brendan Bird, Gerry Harrison, the late Ron Stockbridge, and Mick Williams). We all co-operated with the author in the Campaign for Open Local Government (LCOLG] which opposed New Labour's legislation which attempted to impose executive mayors and town managers on local government. We sought to keep the option to retain the committee system.
Although the book was inspired by the campaign, it is much more than an account of how we defeated the Government's plans to install mayors across the country at that time. The Government has subsequently got its way by converting Group Leaders into executive mayors.
True to his Marxist roots, Peter Latham starts with an exegesis on the distinction between'appearance' and 'reality', dialectics, through class conflict, to the 'Judas' interpretation in relation to Professor Gerry Stoker, the husband of Hilary Armstrong MP, who was the mentor of the New Labour legislation at the time. The author pulls no punches and quotes Kevin Orr, who categorised Stoker as a 'Judas' and describes him as: " ... an academic enemy or betrayer of local government whose work has given intellectual justification to efforts to undermine it, through what have been seen as his attacks on representative democracy, councillors, and political parties."
After setting out his methodological considerations he goes on to deal with the various theories of local government from classical liberal, through Social-Democratic, to neo-liberal New Labour, and then Ed Milliband's father's, 'containment of class conflict' theory from The State in Capitalist Society (1969).
It is when we get to the chapter on 'How local democracy was further undermined by New Labour' that we get to the meat of the book and the period of the LCOLG. He describes the malign influence of The New Local Government Network [NLGN] which was described very aptly by Jeremy Beecham as "the provisional wing of the consulting and contracting sector". They once let slip that they were in favour of executive mayors because it was easier to 'deal with' (corrupt) one person.
After describing how New Labour forced authorities like Haringey to lend money to Icelandic banks, and imposed marketisation and the Private Finance Initiative [PFI] on local government, Peter starts winding down with comparisons with local government in other countries who have been similarly raped by neo-liberal capitalist policies, such as South Africa and the EU countries. However, he brings some hope with his analysis of alternative attitudes to local government in China, Kerala, and Venezuela.
Luckily he was able to up-date the book before publication with a final chapter on the 'Ruling Class Offensive' of the current ConDem Government. Peter's book is a well-researched, academic treatment of the, mainly. recent history and politics of local government. He has included a mine of useful information in the appendices. Although, like all good academics he has copious footnotes and references, very useful to the student of politics, these need not detract from a jolly good read for the ordinary lay person like myself.