Tory times are a changering
Six months after becoming Conservative leader, David Cameron talks to EADT Political Editor GRAHAM DINES about local government changes, regionalism, green and nuclear power, and the reason why he believed his party had to changeAS the Government prepares to allow a new generation of all-purpose unitary councils to break away from counties, Conservative leader David Cameron is unequivocal in his opposition: “It is a mistaken agenda.
Six months after becoming Conservative leader, David Cameron talks to EADT Political Editor GRAHAM DINES about local government changes, regionalism, green and nuclear power, and the reason why he believed his party had to change
AS the Government prepares to allow a new generation of all-purpose unitary councils to break away from counties, Conservative leader David Cameron is unequivocal in his opposition: “It is a mistaken agenda.”
That will come as a blow to Tory councillors in Ipswich who are leading an all-party bid to leave the all embracing arms of Suffolk county council, but to Mr Cameron, a major upheaval of local government proves that Labour had become bereft of ideas.
“I have a sense of déjà vu. We went through this in the 1990s when the Conservative government ran out of steam and had a review of local government to try to encourage people to have single tier local authorities.
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“It got a big raspberry. And now this Government wants to go through it all again. It is incredibly frustrating.”
He said the Government was wasting time in another attempt to try to scrap districts and counties. People in local government and the country at large could see it for what it is.
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“It is being done because Labour has run out of steam; it is being done to restart the regional agenda; and it is being done to destroy a very effective and growing army of Conservative councillors who work very hard for local people.
“It is a complete waste of time. Yes, you can slim down councils, you can make sure they are strategic, efficient and not so costly, but I don't think scrapping the two tier nature of a lot of English local government is a sensible thing to do.”
He added: “It is a mistaken agenda. There is a much more exciting agenda - and it's about reducing nationalised targets, inspections and general bossiness inflicted on local government. We should be devolving power even further down from councils to communities.
“I don't like local government boundary changes that are being pushed through to develop city regions. It is setting councillors against councillors. I suspect the motive of gerrymandering boundaries is for Labour's political gain.”
Mr Cameron acknowledged there was a democratic deficit in England following devolution to Scotland and Wales because the Government was intent on making every major decision regional. He favoured planning, housing and transport policy being handed back to county councils.
“In East Anglia, the county councils might want to work together on policies which affected the region as a whole. But the idea of inflicting regions with a whole new range of politicians is very bad.”
With the Government's support for a new build of nuclear power stations likely to signal the construction of Sizewell C on the Suffolk coast, Mr Cameron said the Government should not be setting in advance a pick and mix between the nuclear option and renewables such as wind, wave, and solar power.
“We should be setting a framework in terms of the outcomes we want - a reduction in carbon emissions and guaranteed security of supply.
“Once you have done that, you let the technologies of the generating companies to work out what the mix should be.
“Our view is that if you genuinely change the planning system, change the rules holding back the green option for localised, decentralised energy, there will be a green energy revolution which we believe will fill the gap with nuclear as a last resort.
“Nuclear in terms of cost effectiveness has been a great disappointment. Privatisation of the energy supply industry forced out into the open the true cost of nuclear.
“The big challenge for the country and the world is carbon emissions. That's where renewables have such an advantage - there are no carbon emissions.”
Mr Cameron said his first six months had seen Labour turning on itself and losing elections while the Tories were rebuilding and winning elections.
“This is a huge opportunity for the Conservative Party. The Government is in difficulty with all its core slogans - 'tough on crime', '24 hours to save the NHS', 'whiter than white' - which are turning to turn to dust in front of them.
“But it is not enough for the Government to fail. The Conservative Party must show how it will succeed. I have focussed the last six months on three things.
“Firstly, getting the party back into the mainstream of debate and politics and this has meant fairly aggressive changes to the party and a better balance of male and female candidates and ethnic diversity.
“We have had to change our approach. We are not going to subsidise people to get out of the NHS, we want to improve it for everyone. We are not going to promise a few extra grammar schools to give social mobility, but change all schools for the better.
“I have been heartened by the response.
“Secondly, I have put in place long term policy work. It would be ridiculous 12 months after losing a third election to have policies on absolutely everything.”
Mr Cameron's third priority is to work to what his Government's legacy should be. Tony Blair knew he wanted to defeat Tories, but when he entered Downing Street he had no imagination of what sort of legacy he wanted to leave and was now desperately trying to push through a reform agenda so he could say: 'This is what I left the nation.'
But of course, Mr Cameron, if he has thought about a legacy three or four years before the first opportunity he has to becoming Prime Minister, gives no indication of how he sees himself remembered in history.