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local democracy

March 24, 2017

Topic: Research

‘Municipal burglary’ challenges local democracy in UK

Peter Latham calls for the remaking of local government – and local democracy – as he confronts the UK Conservative Government’s devolution agenda in his book Who stole the town hall?: The end of local government as we know it.  Drawing on examples from around the UK, Latham argues that the agenda hides a vision with major implications for British democracy: the privatisation of public services and local government.

Latham traces the role of the central government and private sector in diminishing local government, and projects the consequences of its reorganisation. He proposes the mending and remodelling of the tax system with reforms for taxes on land, wealth, and income to sustain critical public services and feed the revival of local and national democracy.  

In his foreword to Who stole the town hall, Rodney Bickerstaffe, former general secretary of Unison, warns of the decline of local government and the rise in civic disengagement and distrust. Bickerstaffe points to the pressing need to improve public services and save local government as a vital democratic institution. He identifies ‘municipal burglary’ and corporate profiteering through government as a major challenge for democracy, and presents Latham’s research and analysis as a diagnosis of the current situation.  


The book builds from Latham’s earlier work The state and local government: Towards a new basis for ‘local democracy’ and the defeat of big business control (2011), in which he calls for the revival of grassroots political networks and structures to address privatisation and reorient government. .    

Sociologist Peter Latham, former researcher at the London School of Economics, is an official in the University and College Union, member of the Labour Land Campaign, the Economic Committee of the Communist Party of Britain, and a delegate to Croydon Trades Union Council. He was Treasurer and then Secretary in the Labour Campaign for Open Local Government (1999-2006).

Photo: Naterally Wicious/Flickr/cc