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There is a transatlantic anti-state ideology behind this long-term shrinkage in public provision. I recall during the coalition a conversation with the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, in which he said that we had to support some reductions in government provision to bring the proportion of government spending within GDP back to 40%. But since 2015 the trend has continued downwards, with both Philip Hammond and Boris Johnson still promising further tax cuts to come, without spelling out what that will mean for education, social care, policy, prisons and probation, roads and public transport. The TaxPayers’ Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs and their fellow travellers still argue that no state should raise more than 35% of GDP in tax. You can do quite a lot with 5% of GDP.
For most people politics is local, and public services are judged by what they provide to the local community. Non-statutory local services also matter. They contribute to the strength of local communities and the quality of local life. Edmund Burke cherished local communities and local self-government as the core of a thriving society. Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Government also cherished local government. Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is a centralised English Government who mistrust local democracy and squeeze local funding. In the long run, that is a danger to democracy as such.