"Holding the Coalition line on cuts is getting harder as 90 Lib Dem councillors and council leaders break silence in a letter of protest to the Times warning of the damage to the economy and the most vulnerable ... and now some Tory councils are joining in. All this is before the great cull of jobs and services begins in earnest in April, when notice periods end and the redundant start to join the unemployment register.
Esoteric ideological debates over "localism" have become pretty meaningless – though the right find it a useful distraction from the brutality of the cuts. The coalition brand of localism means the axe is devolved, along with the blame. Brazen denial, outrageous abuse of figures, and accusations of (Labour) council profligacy are their weapons of choice.
It's easy to bamboozle voters in the impenetrable thickets of local authority funding formulae. Once a minister sinks a Newsnight debate into a row over whether a council is losing 8% or 25%, the hope is viewers give up. How can they know who's right?
There is just one extraordinary fact everyone needs to know. The cuts have fallen hardest on the most deprived councils, while the richest areas have suffered least. Whichever way the figures are construed, the highest percentage of cuts hit the poorest places hardest: Liverpool worst, followed by Manchester; Knowsley; Blackburn with Darwen; South Tyneside; Hackney; Newham; Hartlepool; Tower Hamlets and so on.
Now look up at the top and some councils actually gain – such as Oliver Letwin's Dorset. Among the least affected in spending power are such places as Vince Cable's Richmond upon Thames, Windsor and Maidenhead, Wokingham, and Michael Gove's Surrey.
The Local Government Chronicle first outed these figures, but this remarkable fact has not percolated into national consciousness. Perhaps it's just too hard to believe that any government could do such a thing so blatantly. Research by the House of Commons library found the political match is near perfect: the more solidly Labour the district, the harsher its cuts; while the more blue Tory the shire, the less it is affected, with the Lib Dems in between.
The official response is always the same: "The government has delivered a tough but fair settlement ensuring the most vulnerable communities are protected. If councils share back-office services, join forces to procure, cut out non-jobs and root out overspends, then they can protect frontline services."
Now consider this: worse is planned, again in the name of "localism". Pickles is planning to return funds from business rates to councils that earn them. Currently they are collected centrally and redistributed according to local need. Any move to keep them in the affluent areas with the most lucrative commerce – mainly in the south-east – may in the long term take even more from the poor areas to give to the rich. But it will sound nicely "localist".
Although local tax is a small fraction of overall revenues, council tax is more hated and more regressive than any other. That's why localists of the small-state right are all for devolving tax-raising powers to councils, knowing how much less could be raised. That's why the localism bill has a trigger for a referendum if a council raises tax more than some 2.5%.
Localism, like the "big society", is the shield for a sizeable redistribution from poor to rich. Sir Michael Marmot's government-funded review pinpointed extreme inequality by council district: in some places, 58% of children fail to reach a good standard of behaviour and understanding by primary school age, destined to fail thereafter. But Sure Starts are stripped bare as the most deprived councils are hit so much harder than councils in lush places.
All this, together with £18bn of welfare cuts, form a turbo-charged programme for accelerating inequality, with an entirely predictable outcome. Margaret Thatcher caused the number of poor children to rise from one in seven to one in three: these figures on the distribution of cuts suggest the coalition will leave an even worse legacy.
But attack is their defence. Labour Manchester, rated "good", is this week's target, one of the first out with grim news that its 25% cut over two years means 2,000 jobs lost, swimming pools, libraries, youth centres and all public toilets but one closed.
Its council leader, Sir Richard Leese, says the less visible cuts are even more painful, in care for the old and mentally ill at home. Grant Shapps, caught fibbing about an imaginary Manchester "Twitter czar", accuses them of deliberately waving bloody stumps for political effect. He compared them with next door (Tory) Trafford, which, he claims, is cutting no jobs through greater efficiency. But he forgets to say Manchester has had a cut 60% deeper than more affluent Trafford.
So beware crude council comparisons as the government tries to shift the blame. First you need to know such things as how many jobs a council has outsourced, hiding job cuts in private or voluntary-sector balance sheets – and exactly which government grants have been cut where.
Downright dishonesty is a good defence – until found out"