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

By Martin I. Loughlin | Go to book overview

3
THE CHALLENGE OF MUNICIPAL SOCIALISM

For a period during the 1980s there emerged a distinctive form of municipal socialism as the Labour councils controlling the major cities throughout the country sought to revitalize the cause of socialism within a rather inhospitable national climate.1 In certain respects, the objective of these councils, in seeking to protect jobs and public services from the expenditure cutbacks and privatization initiatives, was essentially defensive. Nevertheless, many of the policies developed during this era should also be assessed in the light of basic social and economic changes which were taking place within their localities and which required those involved in Labour politics to re-examine the relationship between local councils and their communities. What is clear is that, however the phenomenon is best characterized, the municipal socialist movement of the 1980s seemed bound on a direct course of collision with central government.

The efforts of the Conservative administrations since 1979 to restructure the system of local government undoubtedly have created a great deal of turbulence in relations between central and local government. By actively pursuing this goal, the Government was obliged to subvert many of the conventional practices concerning the conduct of central-local relations and, as a consequence, the entire system became highly politicized. Local government thus came to be seen 'by all political parties as "political space" that could be used to pursue ideological objectives'.2 The conflicts between central government and the municipal socialist authorities should, however, be viewed not only as a particularly acute aspect of this general tension in central-local government relations but also as one with distinctive dimensions. It is the objective of this chapter to illuminate one of these distinctive facets; viz., the manner in which law came to be utilized by the leading protagonists as an instrument to assist them in the realization of particular political objectives. Consequently, although I propose to examine various practices which have come to be associated with municipal socialism, my concern is not with the question of whether those policies are able effectively to address the economic and social problems of particular localities. I focus on the challenge of municipal socialism primarily because of the light

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1
For general accounts see: M. Boddy and C. Fudge (eds.), Local Socialism? Labour Councils and New Left Alternatives ( London, 1984); J. Gyford, The Politics of Local Socialism ( London, 1985); S. Lansley, S. Goss and C. Wolmar, Councils in Conflict. The Rise and Fall of the Municipal Left ( London, 1989); G. Green, "'The new municipal socialism'" in M. Loney et al (eds.), The State or the Market: Politics and Welfare in Contemporary Britain ( London, 2nd edn., 1991), ch. 16.
2
D. Burns, R. Hambleton and P. Hoggett, The Politics of Decentralisation. Revitialising Local Democracy ( London, 1994), 18.

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