Pickles' fight with councils
Eric Pickles is one of those politicians who would not be content merely with crossing a road for a political fight, he would sprint across a six-lane motorway for a scrap with his opponents.
That is all most people would notice of the secretary of state for communities and local government. Well, not quite all. He is, after all, a big chap and with those soft Yorkshire vowels looks and sounds like no other contemporary politician. Put some mutton chops, a waistcoat and a watch chain on him and Pickles would look and sound like many a council leader of yesteryear.
All this, though, is to miss the point about Eric Pickles. What few ever notice about him, though he cheerfully talks about it, is that he was once a Marxist - or a Marxist-Leninist to be precise (these distinctions matter, I'm told). As such he is a student of political theory - a man who is fascinated by the practice as well as the theory of how political change is brought about.
Pickles is picking a fight with councils for a reason. He is a believer in what Marxists call "creative destruction" - the idea that before creation can begin destruction must come first. PIckles believes that many councils got, well, fat in the New Labour years. They hired more staff, they paid themselves big pay rises, they took on jobs that their voters didn't really want them to carry out.
The minister could have done what his predecessors did in the Thatcher and Blair eras - issue diktats capping their council tax levels and ordering them what to spend on and what not to spend on. He chose not to. Pickles is issuing orders from Whitehall which are irritating councils but they are orders to be more transparent and, he argues, more democratic.
First, councils were forced to publish details of everything they spend money on which costs more than £500. Next, he limited the ability of councils to produce their own newspapers in the hope of both protecting and unleashing the old fashioned local press on their local politicians.
He wants them to do to council budgets what the national media did to MPs' expenses - publish, scrutinise and criticise. Today he's telling councils to have full public debates on any new council pay packet over £100,000. Next year they will be able to set any council tax level they like but - and it is a big but - rises above a certain level will trigger a referendum on the council tax level.
Some see this as an old fashioned war between local and central government, some see it as an attempt to distract from the coalition's cuts, some - even in government - see it as more destructive than creative. However, Eric Pickles's closest colleagues see method in what others see as the minister's madness.