Simon Carr: Everyone is sincere in this maelstrom of conflicting facts


Cuts, cuts, cuts. Are people and places to be devastated, with "the life sucked out of communities"? Or is it a great opportunity? A liberation, a historic chance to give local government some Camelot glamour while "the vulnerable" are progressively protected?

It depends what side you're on. We are free to believe a very wide range of things. What do you fancy? Caroline Flint, for instance, able, attractive, affable. She made everyone laugh by telling us about Labour's restless appetite for giving power away to local councils.

After that she was faced with a large number of supplicant Tories. Eventually she said: "The record will show that I've taken more interventions than the Secretary of State". That was true, but she also turned down more interventions as well. Was she better or worse at interventions? It depends which side you're on.

Thus: is West Oxfordshire losing more funding than Durham or less? David Cameron said more, and the Durham MP felt less. Durham was losing £60m, he said, and the Oxford lot were losing £775,000. But then Durham indigenes get £4.59 a head, "a sum West Oxfordshire can only dream of". Hartlepool and its mushy peas was losing £113 a head, whereas Wokingham with its guacamole was losing just £4. On the third or fourth hand, for every pound going to the richest areas, £4 was going to Newcastle.

Jack Dromey could throw in the confident assertion that every lost public-sector job would take a private-sector job with it. He believes it perfectly sincerely – but his opposite number believes the opposite with equal sincerity.

You'd be so welcome on either side the rights and wrongs hardly matter.

The multiple meanings of the Localism Bill applied to matters below the numbers as well. Eric Pickles was proud of giving a "general power of competence" to councils. Hitherto, they have had to find a statute allowing them to do something they wanted to (it's the continental way). Now they'll be able to do anything that isn't expressly forbidden (the Anglo-Saxon tradition).

However, Caroline F pointed out the one empowering Clause was followed by four constraining Clauses – which may have the New Labour effect of allowing councils to do anything they want as long it's what the Government wants as well.

David Blunkett suggested the Bill was "centralising the power and decentralising the pain". And Eric Pickles hoped the Opposition would "stop using the poor as a battering ram against the Government".

He's a big fellow, Eric, but there's a fat chance of that coming true.