Legality and Locality: The Role of Law in Central-Local Government Relations

By Martin I. Loughlin | Go to book overview

1
THE QUESTION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT

The recent conflicts in central-local government relations have left many commentators struggling to find a vocabulary through which to provide a satisfactory explanation of changes which have been taking place. The endeavour has not been wholly successful. The language of constitutional discourse, for example, is today riddled with ambiguities. It is not even clear whether this is a descriptive or normative language; and certainly when used normatively it is manifestly incapable of commanding anything like universal endorsement.1 Then there are those who draw on recent trends to proclaim 'the death of local government'.2 What remains unexplained in such analyses is the fact that there has scarcely been a time when local government has not been viewed by some as languishing in a critical condition;3 and, indeed, that it may be from the existence of such tensions that local government is actually sustained.4 Furthermore, even if such prognostications were well-founded, we remain unsure whether we should mourn the loss or put out the flags to welcome in a new era of lean, task-orientated,

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1
See, e.g., M. Elliott, The Role of Law in Central-Local Relations ( London, 1981) which seeks to identify the basic propositions underpinning the constitutional framework of central-local government relations. Cf. M. Grant, ' The role of the courts in central-local relations' in M. Goldsmith (ed.), New Research in Central-Local Relations ( Aldershot, 1986), 191, at 195: 'Elliott . . . offers no criteria for moving from description of certain widespread practices . . . to asserting that they have a prescriptive effect, save that his propositions are based on constitutional assumptions that are shared by both commentators and citizens'.
2
See, e.g., A. Alexander, The Politics of Local Government in the United Kingdom ( London, 1982), 2: "'Local government is an essential part of Britain's democracy, but unless conscious steps are taken to revive it, the end of local government may be in sight.'"; T. Burgess and T. Travers, Ten Billion Pounds. Whitehall's Takeover of the Town Halls ( London, 1980), 188: "'The [effect of the] Local Government, Planning and Land Bill 1980 . . . will be within a very short time to replace genuine local government by the dependent outposts of a large central bureaucracy. It marks the beginnings of the wholly centralized state'".
3
See, e.g., W. A. Robson, Local Government in Crisis ( London, 1966), 150: "'there is a strong tendency [today] to concentrate power at the centre to an excessive degree and . . . [a]s a consequence we are in danger of becoming a managerial society, with the levers of power in the hands of an elite . . .'"; E. Cannan, The History of Local Rates in England ( London, 2nd edn., 1912), viii-; ix: the growing use of central grants-in-aid amounts to a "'transfer of expense from the localities to the State'" which will undermine our traditions of local self-government and will lead to "'the citizen deliver[ing] himself bound hand and foot into the custody of the official expert'"; J. T. Smith, Government by Commissions Illegal and Pernicious ( London, 1849), 53: "'Local self-government is [being] systematically attacked"' by central government "'which is straining to make every fundamental law and institution of the country bend beneath the yoke of irresponsible centralized commissions'".
4
See J. A.G. Griffith, "'Foreword'" in M. Loughlin D. Gelfand & K. Young (eds.), Half A Century of Municipal Decline 1935-1985 ( London, 1985), xi-xii.

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