It takes something to surprise a hard bitten old political hack like me, but this report which has jone gone up on the BBC News website did.
Next year's local elections in England could be abandoned under plans being considered by the government, the BBC has learned. Whitehall officials have told council chiefs they are considering cancelling the May 2007 polls because of possible plans for a local government shake-up. The move would avoid electing councils which would sit for just one year. The government denies ministers are considering the move, saying it has not yet decided whether to reform councils. But Conservatives and Lib Dems say Labour would benefit from avoiding local polls as Tony Blair prepares to step down and hand power to Gordon Brown. Elections are due in May 2007 in about 300 English local councils. The government intends to publish a White Paper on reforming local councils in November, with the hope they would become law in spring 2007. There would then be "shadow" votes for the newly reformed councils in 2008, with them taking power in 2009. In the minutes of one meeting, seen by BBC News, ODPM officials said it was "highly unlikely" the elections would go ahead, not least because "it would not be very efficient to hold elections for a one year term". An OPDM spokesman said: "Ministers have not decided on restructuring... therefore the suggestion of postponing or cancelling local government elections next year does not arise." There are currently several different types of council in the UK, including single tier unitary authorities in some urban areas and county and district councils working alongside each other in many rural areas. The government last week announced it was going to hold a series of consultations about the future of local government in England, even though no decisions have been taken. The Minister for Communities - David Miliband - is to hold talks with all council leaders outside the big cities. There will also be a series of "regional roundtables" involving ministers in each of the eight English regions outside London to discuss "the governance, structure and change process" of the system. Mr Miliband says he wants to create "a strong and sustainable role for local government with self-confident councils that lead and empower their communities and work with others to deliver high quality public services". But Conservative shadow local government minister Eric Pickles said Mr Miliband was trying to help Mr Blair retire from Downing Street without suffering an embarrassing defeat at the local elections. "It would be dreadful for Mr Blair to suffer the drubbing he would undoubtedly receive at the polls so they want to suspend democracy," he said. Mr Pickles told BBC News 24 he knew Mr Miliband had personally told one council chief executive he would like to cancel the elections. "That's definitely on the cards," said the Tory MP, a former council leader. Reforming local government could cost £3.5bn without improving public services, he claimed. "It is an abuse of power and it is really treating the British constitution like Labour's personal Lego set," he added.
So let's get this straight. Labour actually intends to abolish local democracy for twelve months. And with the way this government works, if they actually do carry out local government reform it will take them much longer to achieve than they set out in the legislation. So local elections could be cancelled for even longer. I know these people normally treat Parliament with contempt, but to do the same to elections takes some beating. I suspect there will be quite a few Labour MPs who have something to say about this. It may not have been David Miliband's smartest move.