32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Penetrating critique but falls down on the elixir of "localism",
This review is from: Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts (Hardcover)
With this well-written and insightful book, Jenkins confirms his status as probably Britain's leading broadsheet columinist on matters political. Here, he has a compelling thesis and follows it through chapter after chapter, and only the latter couple of chapters are somewhat of a letdown. The continuation of Thatcher's 1980s deeds, via Major, Blair and, most probably, Gordon Brown, is documented well, with judicious use of figures and concrete examples to underpin the trenchant views of the author. The mismatches between the two distinct Thatcherite revolutions are stressed throughout this book, though reference to Andrew Gamble's excellent 'The Free Economy and the Strong State' would have been instructive. Many of the problems and inefficiencies supposedly brought about by command and control centralism (or, in the early postwar decades summed up as 'The man in Whitehall knows best') are exposed here, including some major and very costly failings under Brown's watch at the Treasury. It becomes clear from this evidence that ministerial accountability is one of the hollowest words in the British political vocabulary.
While the supposed panacea of 'localism' does not really convince, we can at least be sure that we are right to be highly sceptical of leading politicians pronouncing ad nauaeam about the virtues of devolving power and reinvigorating local governance. The words 'clutching' and 'straws' spring to mind. Also, despite the post-1997 devolution settlements, the political culture in Britain still seems highly centralised and one fears that the good citizens of Britain are not ready to somehow embrace a localist philosophy as a way of overcoming the pathologies of heavily-centralised management of public services. Indeed, much evidence points to a generally declining interest in political participation, with local politics perhaps bearing the brunt in terms of pitiful local election turnout levels. Central or local, regional or supranational, public administration everywhere is a complex business and devolving a swathe of powers to local councils - whatever their territorial basis - is not necessarily the magic potion that Jenkins, despite his preeminence as an author and commentator, so fervently believes it to be.
A very interesting read, but, as with many analyses of the failings of how Britain is governed, it offers a comprehensive diagnosis, but remains unconvincing in the remedy it offers.