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Tag Archives: Eric Pickles

Pleb or posh – the UK Cabinet’s class position analysed

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The  Andrew Mitchell row over the abuse allegedly hurled at police by the UK Government’s chief whip, and whether or not he called them plebs, brings the political focus back on to whether Britain is being governed by a bunch of out of touch posh boys. Here is a guide to the essential information to allow you to make up your mind. (Definitions and analysis are given below.) Included is information on the nature of Cabinet members’ work before they became MPs, which speaks to the issue of how out of touch they may or may not be.

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General Powers and Super Pickles: the new local heroes

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So, what is the “general power of competence” that, at the sweep of a minister’s pen, can banish the courts from interfering with local authority affairs and bring religious harmony to our land? UK Communities Secretary Eric Pickles brandished his pen to sign into law ahead of schedule provisions of the Localism Act 2011 to deal with the Bideford Town Council prayers row. They give councils in England “general powers of competence”, powers that allow them “the same power to act that an individual generally has”. The idea is to free them to offer services in innovative ways. But Pickles has a wider agenda: to keep “unaccountable judges” out of politics.

Hitherto local authority powers have been constrained by Acts of Parliament – they could do what was laid out in those Acts (particularly the Local Government Act 1972) and no more.

As a result, according to a Communities Department introduction to the new Act: “Sometimes councils are wary of doing something new – even if they think it might be a good idea – because they are not sure whether they are allowed to in law, and are concerned about the possibility of being challenged in the courts.The Government has turned this assumption upside down. Instead of being able to act only where the law says they can, local authorities will be freed to do anything – provided they do not break other laws.”

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Bideford council prayers ruling fails to ban Christianity (shock)

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Let us be clear. Britain remains a Christian nation, as Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has insisted – or just as much of a Christian nation as it was before Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that Bideford Town Council had no legal powers to hold prayers during council meetings.

Nor has there been any curtailing of “the right to worship … a fundamental and hard-fought British liberty,” as Pickles suggested. There is not, for example, any ban on Church of England clerics coming within five miles of London; no likelihood of vicars being burned at the stake; no exclusion of members of the Church of England from public office – all milestones (applied by the English state to Catholics and Dissenters) along the road towards establishing the “hard fought British liberty” of worshipping according to the rites of the Anglican state religion (in England, of course, not elsewhere in these islands, where there was a certain amount of resistance to having such British liberty imposed).

But enough of the rant. What actually has Mr Justice Ouseley done if he has not disestablished the Church of England and its communicants? What he has done is look at the powers of local authorities under the Local Government Act 1972 and found that they do not include the power to call elected representatives to a brief act of Christian worship. Such calls are, in the old terminology, ultra vires of the legislatively sanctioned powers of the Town Council.

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