The British museums new show Germany Memories of a Nation is worth as visit and this sign at the exhibition brought me up short
We may think that London is over mighty – the Scots certainly do- but the journey to change British culture to strengthen the regional culture- ie make it more Germam- will be a long one because the process by which the capital became all powerful is a long one too reaching back to the Normans and their castles and The Domesday book and centralised taxation. It will involve sacrifice – giving away powers and the rights to raise taxes from the centre – which are against all the instincts of whitehall and the treasury
It has been a strange reversal of perceptions in my lifetime.
Local Government is now thought to be a good thing with local politicians like Boris Johnston and Alex Salmond being among the most trusted. Yet in 1980 Margaret Thatcher saw Local Government as a hotbed of the hard left and corruption and was determined to destroy local power. The old Tory prejudices persist. Michael Gove didn’t trust local authorities either and his reforms in Education were about removing local government control.
Perhaps we like the idea of local government because there is so little real power at the local level now- it’s a kind of nostalgia for vibrant and healthy local democracy that did not exist- and as it is revived the old problems will rear their heads – graft, incompetence and capture of institutions by extremists. It probably won’t happen in London again ( too wealthy and in thrall to Money), but Alex Salmond’s desire to disrupt the centre might be replicated in cities in the north. Remember the Liverpool trots and Derek Hatton ?
Either way I doubt we will ever have a decentralised culture like Germany – the differences run deep and have developed over centuries. Changing it is the work of decades – may be centuries