Community Politics is not a technique for winning local government elections

There has been a bit of discussion recently on a couple of Party websites about community politics and whether that idea contributed to recent success in the local elections. But is this defining community politics as the delivery of multiple leaflets with bar charts and slogans?

The phrase “community politics” was coined in 1969 and it was adopted by the Liberal Party in 1970. In 1980, Bernard Greaves and I wrote the following:

Community Politics is not a technique for winning local government elections.

Community Politics is not a technique. It is an ideology, a system of ideas for social transformation. For those ideas to become a reality there needs to be a strategy of political action. For that strategy to be successful, it needs to develop effective techniques of political campaigning. Those techniques are a means to an end. If they become an end in themselves, the ideas they were designed to promote will have been lost.

Community Politics is not local. It is universal. It is an approach to the collective making of decisions and the co-operative regulation of society that is relevant in any social group, from the family to the world.

Community Politics is not about government; it is about people. It is about their control of the exercise of power. It is about the distribution of power, the use of power, the dissemination of power and the control of power. It is an approach to the way in which decisions are made. It is not limited to the making of ‘political’ decisions within the structures of ‘government’.

Community Politics is not about elections. Elections are an essential ingredient in the process of community politics, a necessary and vital element in the conduct or social affairs. If elections and the holding of elected office become the sole or even the major part of our politics, we will have become corrupted by the very system of government and administration that community politics sets out to challenge. The process will have displaced the motivating ideas. We will have lost our reason for fighting elections at all.

How much do these thoughts resonate amongst Liberal Democrats in 2018?

* Gordon Lishman is a member of the Federal Board.

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41 Comments

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  • Laurence Cox 22nd May '18 - 4:25pm

    It might be a good idea to download it; following Colin’s sad demise, we don’t know how long the Rosenstiel web site will last.

    [Note to LDV Editors] Could LDV host this document? There isn’t any sign of a copyright on it, so I assume that it still belongs to the two authors.

  • Well I’m with this 110%, but I would be grateful for a little flesh on the bones. For example, Gordon talks of people’s “control of and exercise of power”. How exactly would this happen ? What would be the mechanisms that would allow people to have a meaningful say in the things which affect their day to day lives ? Would this apply at a national level, or only at a local level ?
    At present the voter has almost zero power even at local level. In many areas, especially those with a unitary authority, electors get a vote every 4 years. The cabinet system has reduced the little power the ordinary councillors had and the abolition of the Audit Commission (arguably our biggest mistake in coalition) has made local government completely unresponsive.
    So does our party leadership have a view on the future of local government ? (that’s a genuine question, not athetoid all one).

  • Athetoid should read rhetorical. Some kind of predictive text clitch.

  • Gordon Lishman 22nd May '18 - 5:45pm

    Chris: there is a Party policy group currently preparing some policy proposals on local government issues. It will be debated in Brighton in September. Although it contains some thoughts about community campaigning, it’s more about local government financing, powers and structures and devolution.
    There are some answers to your “how” question in the original Theory and Practice, for instance about promoting the habits and techniques of participation and community institutions.
    To update it, I’d now add thoughts about online deliberative democracy, citizens juries and online communities.
    The key point, however, is that it’s about a way of thinking about politics rather than a set of techniques.
    Dave: thank you for your very kind comments.

  • Phil Wainewright 22nd May '18 - 6:37pm

    Thank you Gordon – both for writing the original document with Bernard Greaves and for reminding us of its continuing salience today.

    You don’t need to be a LibDem to deliver lots of leaflets and do loads of casework. What sets us apart – from Tories, from socialists *and* from middle-of-the-road centrists – is a belief in empowering people by meaningfully devolving power.

    Unfortunately much of what’s happened in this country in the intervening few decades since the Liberal Party adopted this policy has been the opposite – the cabinet system in local government, elected mayors centralizing what little powers remain, local government starved of resources with less and less power to set its own taxation levels, all within a context of a continuing first-past-the-post electoral system for most local authorities. We still have a ton of work to do.

  • I have always thought of community politics as a natural evolution of ideas that were set out by levellers and diggers at the time of the English Civil War.
    John Locke articulated a theory of private property grounded in natural law starting from the Biblical premise that God gave the world to all mankind in common.
    Locke argued that claiming exclusive ownership of land could only be justified to the extent that land could be worked or improved through individual personal effort and only when “enough and as good” is left over for others to use.
    Desirable land is however finite and when the condition of “enough and as good” can no longer obtained other solutions are required.

    Thomas Paine, articulated his solution in a 1797 pamphlet called “Agrarian Justice.”

    Since enclosure of a piece of God’s green Earth (the commons) for private use means excluding others from its use, Paine argued, one who encloses land owes one’s neighbours some compensation. Such compensation would be arranged in proportion to their landholdings. Landowners would pay a modest fee into a fund (via an inheritance tax). Payments would be made out of this fund to support the elderly, on one hand, and on the other hand to provide seed money to young persons when they turned 21, so they could set themselves up in business and start families without fear of poverty.
    Paine’s solution was never taken up but was resuscitated in a new form. This time, the idea was presented as a land tax, championed by Henry George and taken up by the Liberal Party at the start of the twentieth century.

  • As they say on twitter, This!

  • Graham Jeffs 22nd May '18 - 7:57pm

    Phil Wainwright – I agree. And you might add the curse of multi-member wards where there were single “community” wards before. A complete turn-off for the electorate when they come to appreciate that the outcome for “their” community is being decided by voters elsewhere.

  • Bernard Greaves 22nd May '18 - 8:24pm

    Myself and David Howarth reiterate exactly Gordon Lishman’s comments about the nature of community politics in the opening section of “Towards a Liberal Future”, launched at the Lib Dem Spring Conference this year in Southport. The publication, with a foreword by Vince Cable, makes the point that over recent times the identity of the Liberal Democrats has got lost not only with the general public but with many of our members also. We set out to restate the fundamental values of Liberalism and the major policy themes of the Liberal and Liberal Domocrat parties, positioned since the days of Lloyd George on the centre left of British politics, and rooted in the tradition of Liberal thought represented by John Stuart Mill, Lord Acton, LT Hobhouse, Jo Grimond, Nancy Seear and Community Politics. The book is available from ALDC at £5.00 for members and £10.00 for non members and was put on the LibDemVoice website immediately after the Conference with a review by Caron Lindsay. Chris Corey might like to see our exploration of the theme of democracy throughout all orgasnisations and communities, including the workplace, and JoeB our exposition of the taxation of land values. Both are essential elements of the Liberal tradition severely neglected over recent years.

  • David Raw,

    I think I would have been with John Ball as well.

    The Putney debates 2018 https://www.putneydebates2018.co.uk/ in the tradition of the original 1647 event are around the theme Powers to the Peoples: Electoral Reform and a Federal UK. They quote Tony Benn as to the relevance of the Civil war debates “Every generation has to fight the same battle again & again: there is no destination called democracy. That’s the interest of the Putney Debates.”

  • Bernard Greaves 22nd May '18 - 8:31pm

    Phil Wainewright would also be interested in our attack on centralised power, both at national level and in the hands of individuals such as elected mayors, and our setting out of propsals for ci onstitutional reform based on the principles of federalism.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 22nd May '18 - 9:07pm
  • OK I must admit that I am inspired by community politics but I read Gordon and Bernard’s pamphlet several times when community politics were referred to previously on LDV and several times this time and I still don’t understand it!

    Several things questions for us now to consider occur to me:

    1. People are forming themselves into campaigning political community groups through online petition sites, the internet, facebook and a more accessible media not available in 1980 – how does this affect 21st century community politics?

    2. But some communities seem to have difficulty forming groups to actually get their voice heard e.g. Grenfell Tower, residents, private renters, gig economy workers and workers in the workplace generally – how does this affect 21st century community politics? How do we ensure these voices are heard?

    3. Lishhman and Greaves wrote in 1980 “In the years ahead,.. [we need to maintain] at every level of the Party a clear and coherent view of the need for Liberal values and Liberal campaigning. The Party’s current failure to do this at a national level is an important weakness .A necessary condition of these roles for the Liberal Party will be much more debate and much greater coherence at every level about the essential elements of liberalism – not the details of policies, but the unchanging ideas on which these transient policies are based. That security in belief is a pre-condition of the compromises and working relationships which are a necessary part of building the movement, and of working with non-Liberals.”

    There seems to me to no formal party mechanism for that debate on the “essential elements of Liberalism” – and how it pertains to the 21st Century. Party strategy – yes, detailed policies – yes, Liberalism no, Should there be? If so, what form should it take?

    4. Unfortunately many complete or near “one party states” in local Government following the less good recent electoral fortunes of the Lib Dems, mean that there are lonely, may be solitary Lib Dem campaigners in Labour cities and Tory Shires. How do we inspire and support them to campaign for their communities? What lessons can we draw from previous eras when this was the case?

    In short do we need a new community politics network, group, forum, conference to address such questions and update community politics, its ideals and techniques for the 21st century?

  • Graham Evans 22nd May '18 - 10:07pm

    While community politics has long been accepted as an important concept among Liberals, it is difficult to get away from the fact that in the early days it was Liberals who pioneered the techniques associated with Community Politics, particularly regular Focus deliveries, which helped win elections. However activists in the Labour and Tory parties have widely copied these techniques, so the techniques as such have lost much of their potency. Moreover it is not obvious to me how many of the concepts associated with Community Politics are unique to the Liberal Democrats. Residents Associations which fight local elections could reasonably claim to be exponents of Community Politics, as could local single issue pressure groups. Lastly, proponents of Community Politics do not appear to have addressed the issue of conflict resolution, namely that members of local communities may have distinctly opposing interests, and trying to split the difference may be impossible.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd May '18 - 10:08pm

    No thanks, Michael 1, let’s not debate Liberalism again. Too many dubious bedfellows claim to be liberals, and even if they also declare themselves social liberals, they are not Liberal Democrats. Debate Liberal Democracy if you like – a strong and beautiful concept.

  • Tony Greaves 22nd May '18 - 11:05pm

    We should debate Liberalism, not liberalism.

  • Ironically came across this just after reading (belatedly) about Harvey Milk day, who once said, ““If you want to change the world, start in your own neighborhood.”

    The interface between community politics and elections has always been contentious. But in the early 70s when this was first written about councils were the obvious sources of power for people to ‘take control’. The controlled housing, schools, a lot of public transport. Modern councils – the focus for most politicians – control very little of these things any more.

    But where are the campaigns on NHS foundation trusts, school boards of governors and the like. To take power and use it in those communities.

    Being a good community politician became synonymous with ‘the person who gets things done’ – which is actually the opposite

  • As Gordon says. Community Politics is a philosophical- and political-based approach to community empowerment. On this subject, I would also recommend ALDC’s “The Worthing Declaration” (Association of Liberal Councillors, Hebden Bridge, 1985).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 23rd May '18 - 2:07am

    I am not of the era inspired by Gordon and co, being the Clegg and co era.

    I do know enough of him and his work and it is this sort of inspiration we need, so we can appreciate it very much.

    I was also not of the era of the Putney debates, but was born in Wimbledon and lived in Putney from birth through to my twenties, and as a teenager heard and met Tony Benn at the same church the debates were first heard in, inspiring indeed.

    I am no leftist, but the views I cherish are informed and indeed too inspired by those who give me a broad perspective, radical, centre, moderate centre left, but aware that a love of liberty and a sense of community can be shared, amongst many .

  • Sue Sutherland 23rd May '18 - 10:03am

    When I was able to be active in politics I tried very hard to be a community politician and it is very very difficult but, I believe, extremely worthwhile to see people empowered. It is so easy to be bounced into making decisions from the top down rather than genuinely devolving power.
    I don’t think we can be true to this ideal without practising it in our own party and Coalition showed how easy it is to sink into rule by a chosen few and the consequences for our party if we fail to listen. It’s so good that we believe in OMOV but that is just the first step.
    I believe it would be totally reforming and give all members practice in how to engage in community politics if Gordon and others could work on producing a document to show us how to make it happen within our own party.

  • Gordon – thank goodness. A piece which is the perfect antidote to the totally uninspiring “parish magazine” school of FOCUS.

  • Neil Sandison 23rd May '18 - 11:20am

    Anyone who has been following Grenfell could not fail to notice what happens when communities become dislocated from those who have authority over them or make decisions for them without their consent .A re-engagement with communities is long overdue and community politics as a tool kit to enable better engagement and enpowerment should be promoted by Liberal Democrats .We dont do things for you but with you should be our motto.

  • Gordon Lishman 23rd May '18 - 11:34am

    Thanks to contributors. A few thoughts on people’s comments, although if LDV will allow me, they may come in several tranches:
    Phil: You’re right, of course, that you don’t have to be a Liberal Demo9crat to deliver lots of leaflets. However, I have been surprised that other parties haven’t done anything like as much of this as I would have expected over the years and that much of their output has been formulaic and with a tone and content that fails to connect with people. Of course, LibDems are sometimes guilty of the same things, but it seems to me that there is something about FOCUS that fits a liberal ethos more than that of our opponents. I wrote into the Southport strategy motion a line about helping campaigners to “find their own voice” in campaigning rather than relying too much on templates and “drop in” stories. I always liked Jo Grimond’s description of Liberals as “different people with different thoughts and different voices in the context of the same basic, shared ideas”. (Paraphrased from memory, but accurate in sense).

  • Gordon Lishman 23rd May '18 - 11:35am

    Michael1: (1) ” campaigning political community groups” online. That should be very much part of our approach. It also makes it easier for us to build campaigns on issues that go beyond the local and should be a priority for the Liberal Democrats (again, see the reference in the Southport strategy resolution. (2) “difficulty in forming groups to actually get their voice heard”. Yes, indeed, although hardly new. That’s why a community politician has a role in helping those groups to form, find their voices and learn the techniques and habits of participation. With the decline of trade union membership and power, it is particularly important to communicate with, represent and fight with and for under-privileged and powerless groups in the workplace. It’s also the most important area for using the power of national and international bodies to legislate on those issues. (3 + 4) “debating Liberalism” and networks. YES! I’m trying with others to do some of those things through the Social Liberal Forum (note the recent book) and I’m delighted with the recent Greaves/Howarth booklet. Appetite for big debate still seems too limited and many of the leaders of it are getting older! The recent Ashdown prize, emphasising one-off policy ideas, is engaging some people but not much with big ideas (I’ve been short-listing several hundred applications) and without much Liberal context. I agree with David Raw about ALDC, but that organisation may now be part of the problem. Perhaps it needs an aggressive faction to challenge its narrow focus.

  • Gordon Lishman 23rd May '18 - 11:35am

    Graham Evans and Once a LibDem: my original definition of community politics as a strategy was “helping to solve people’s grievances [now “casework”]; helping people in communities to take and use power; and representing people at all levels of the political structure [which should certainly not confine itself to formal bodies of government]. It’s the middle one which is both most important and most neglected, because it’s the most demanding and the first and third elements crowd it out. Graham: you’re right – conflict resolution is crucial (and features in Theory and Practice!). I once described myself as “passionate about compromise” because that’s a key element in pluralist liberal democracy. It’s getting harder because people are losing trust and never learning the importance of reconciling different views. There is an appetite for “taking back control” which gives us the opportunity to engage, involve, teach and lead.
    Bernard: YES to federalism which you once described as “an idea with infinite possibilities”. Reassuringly, it was the largest group of submissions to one section of the Ashdown Prize ideas, although difficult to think of as “new”!
    Tony D: Thanks for the reference to the “Worthing Declaration”. That was another of my efforts on these themes.

  • @David Raw

    “but what is also needed is a thick skin, good shoes, sheer hard work, a radical questioning nature, a good relationship with the local press and a proper sense of liberal values.”

    A brilliant post if I can be so bold! And an excellent summation of community politics and how to be an effective community politician!

    “Success” in often elusive in politics – failure in election, governments and councils introducing policies you disagree with, one own’s brand of Liberal Democracy not winning within the party. But actually the “body politic” as Lishham and Greaves also say is a big mass of the Establishment, vested interests, community groups, pressure groups, political parties, political campaigns, charities, the media, trade unions, businesses, public sector organisations, individuals all jostling. So seeming failure can often be followed by and indeed may be necessary for success.

    So I think one should also heed the words of “If” by Rudyard Kipling – tough in life, even tougher in politics. http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_if.htm

    If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;

    And if you have a good pair of shoes and a thick skin – then “My child, you will be a Liberal Democrat Community Politician”!

    (Also thanks for the thanks!)

  • According to your pamphlet you have paraphrased Grimond accurately – you write:

    Jo Grimond wrote in 1970 that he saw the Liberal Party’s future as “a coalition of different groups putting different emphases on different parts of the same basic idea.”

    In the context of comments about ALDC and leaflet templates etc. it is interesting that you wrote in 1980:

    “The ALC have been the victims of their own success. Their influence and authority have created a new generation of tough-minded, politically competent activists, making ever greater demands for logistic support. The danger, however, is apparent when they are supplied with not only ready packaged techniques, but even the vocabulary of local action (‘Artwork Sheets’ as they are known).”

    And you write of the “the encroaching dangers of mindless activism”.

    So things don’t change!

    Encouragingly I have to say while I have had help and information from ALDC and indeed other parts of the party from the 90s onward, it has not been about “mindless activism” – and indeed I would not have been an activist or as encouraged if it had been. You said in 1980 that the then leadership of ALC were rejecting “mindless activism” and I think that they have done so since then.

    The first lesson in being effective is surely to learn and use what has been effective elsewhere and some packaging of that so that it can be used “off the shelf” is obviously useful. Most of us wear ready made clothes – hopefully we don’t dress mindlessly or at least not too mindlessly!

    We do though always need to be wary of a “painting by numbers” approach even if you need guidance and instruction to be an artist and as Steve Jobs said “Picasso had a saying “Good artists copy, great artists steal'”

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd May '18 - 9:41pm

    It seems to me there is a sub-text in the idea that ‘we should help people in communities to take and use power’. I think we may actually mean by that that we should like disadvantaged and underprivileged people, or even just people who seem to feel they have to put up with a poor deal, to demand and combine together for better and fairer treatment, and we will encourage them to do so. It’s a very middle-class idea, and one I’m a bit distrustful of. Community groups tend to form when there is a perceived need and purpose. Some groups though are formed to support vested interests. Some naturally pushy people will always make sure things work out well for them. Our public society at local level is an enormous network of interacting and sometimes competing groups, some lasting for decades but maybe changing focus and personnel from time to time, others springing up as new causes are perceived.

    What do I conclude? Probably that I just want to get some Liberal Democrat councillors elected, because I have some faith in their being fair-minded, willing to listen to local people’s wants and needs and work hard for them. I’m not sure that ‘community politics’ is an idea that grabs me beyond that, but it seems well worth this discussion.

  • Bernard Greaves 24th May '18 - 12:12am

    If Colin Rosenstiel’s web site disappears it will still be possible to obtain “The Theory and Practice of Community Politics”.
    It was reprinted in 2006 by ALDC in “Community Politics Today. A collection of essays including the original Theory and Practice of Community Politics”. The original text was republished unammended, including the typos uncorrected, with an introduction by Ed Davey, essays by Simon Hughes, James Graham, John Smithson, John Tilley, Mark Pack, Gordon Lishman, Bernard Greaves, Simon Hebditch Mary Reid & Ed Davey and Alison Holmes.
    I would draw attention, perhaps self indulgently, to the sections in my essay on Inter-community politics and Community Economics, perhaps more relevant now than when they were written. I would also commend Gordon Lishman’s highly perceptive analysis of what was lacking in the original publication, particularly his emphasis on equality and diversity.His comments on feminism have a particular resonance today.

  • Gordon Lishman 25th May '18 - 10:41am

    Michael1: it’s good to know that my memory is consistent, although I don’t take much pride in the consistency of ideas – I really dislike people who can’t change their minds.
    Katherine: I don’t see why encouraging “disadvantaged and underprivileged people, or even just people who seem to feel they have to put up with a poor deal, to demand and combine together for better and fairer treatment” is at all “a very middle-class idea”. J S Mill, Edmund Burke and the founders of the Reform and labour movements would see that either.
    I can see that people today might need help to organise groups and to learn about debate, compromise and campaigning. If they get that support, they can be powerful, effective and re-learning trust in politics. Yes, groups form and re-form and change on issues. That’s good, but it’s also helpful to build “community institutions” which help that process and provide a continuing reference point. It is surely the most fundamental of liberal ideas: that people can and should take more control over their own lives.

  • Katharine Pindar 25th May '18 - 10:33pm

    That ‘people can and should take more control over their own lives’ is, in my view, Gordon, high-minded Liberal claptrap. We can indeed, in our conscientous middle-class way, try and encourage more community action where it will be useful. But people can’t be generalised about like that. People have many significant issues in their lives and mostly don’t think, IMO, in that way. If asked to do so, some will prefer others to do it for them, some will feel they can’t do it or it’s not up to them, and those who like power and control will find ways to take it. Politicians will tend to be among the latter, and may congratulate themselves if they then generously share it.

  • @Katharine Pindar

    Um – with respect I hope it is not highminderd Liberal claptrap.

    Of course people’s first concerns are to meet their pressing needs. But it seems your analysis does not stand up. The power of the Trade Union movement was the realisation and a strong article of faith among working people that it was only through collective action that they could significantly change their working conditions. Not just at the ballot box but also by withdrawing their labour and through things like workers’ education associations. Of course some of this was done bottom down by middle class “leaders” but also a desire and appetite and a realisation that this was the only way to get improvement meant it was an exceptionally strong grassroots movement – and still is.

    Humans are about coming together into groups – from the first hunter/gather groups to greater organisation that led to agriculture.

    I would argue that today millions more people are coming together in groups and practising community politics – although they may not perceive it as such – from facebook groups to mumsnet and Liberal Democrat Voice. People are signing online petitions and indeed joining political parties in record numbers for recent years.

    But… There do seem to be problems – politics is perceived as something that is done to people. Too often it is perceived and practised as something people go away and “do” at the Town Hall, or Westminster or Strasbourg.

    We should challenge the notion that politicians are a breed apart – you do not “become” a politician – you are one by virtue of being a member of the human race. But when we are councillors, activists and campaigners we should try and not “do politics” to people but rather facilitate their political action. Tough because we are also, at the same time, peddling a Liberal viewpoint and the Liberal Democrat party. If people are busy, we should be doing things that brings the political process to them- out asking people’s views, inviting them to walk round their area with council officials, holding effective neighbourhood forums etc. etc.

  • Katharine Pindar 26th May '18 - 9:35am

    We have to be optimists to be Lib Dem activists, I suppose, Michael 1, but I am amazed that you think ‘today millions more people are coming together in groups and practising community politics’. The Trade Unions are still important, but fewer workers are joining them. Far from more people happily joining together, there is a real problem of isolation and loneliness in our society, which I fear is getting worse. How many people glancing at the TV adverts showing bright-faced young couples with two lovely children do not feel momentary sadness or cynicism? How many people have regrets or sad feelings on Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day because they can no longer relate to those happy occasions?

    I do agree with your last paragraph, especially your last sentence, thank you, but let’s not kid ourselves about how much we can do.

  • @Katharine Pindar

    There are a lot of different factors mixed up your comments

    The first is whether community politics is some “high minded claptrap” that middle class Liberals want to impose on people (who don’t want it, need it or care).

    I think in general terms the Trade Union movement in particular gives the lie to this.

    Far from being “high minded claptrap” – where community politics doesn’t flourish and isn’t encouraged dictatorship in all its insidious forms does. And I would hope most Liberal Democrats are against dictatorship.

    This may be for example in “one party state” councils where no member of the public ever turns up to its meetings because a) it is virtually impossible to find out how do so, b) people are subtly discouraged from doing so; c) it makes no difference anyway if you were to do so.

    Your second assertion is that fewer people are participating in community politics

    Well may be – may be not – it is not an argument against community politics – indeed the opposite.

    An audit may be needed – the decline in trade union membership is a negative. And Liberals of the time had strong criticism to make of the Trade Unions of the ’70s. The recent increase in membership of political parties is a positive. Clearly modern technology makes it much easier for people to be involved in “political” activity and many are.

    As an example, the area where I lived had neighbourhood forums – most were pretty much moribund. But there was one where there was an active chair, a former journalist, and not party political. He ensured that engaging forum newsletters went out, had lively well-attended public meetings, championed particular projects, engaged with the press and did things like having a “walking forum” where the public went round the area with councillors, officials etc. Now he was to a degree “imposing” upon the public but also involving them, giving them the tools to be involved and meaning that it made a difference if they did.

    We should follow such examples of how to be “community politicians”. Our individual influence may be small – but when we do follow such examples we tilt against dictatorship including at times Liberal Democrat dictatorship. Moreover when we do, we encourage others to do so motivated by our example.

  • Phil Wainewright 26th May '18 - 11:21am

    I think that the rise of social media gives the lie to any notion of a decline in ‘community politics’ – if anything it has given a huge boost to the notion that people can take power if they act collectively.

    For most people though they are only bothered enough to join in a community campaign when they care enough about the issues it deals with. In the absence of something that gets people really steamed up, everyday community politics needs someone putting in a bit of effort to keep people engaged, such as the neighbourhood forum chair that Michael1 cites. Then there’s a danger that it can turn into middle-class claptrap, dictating what people should care about – which is why it’s important to understand the philosophy behind it as well as the techniques.

    Rather than trying to be the party that practises community politics (or maybe as well as) I think the LibDems must position ourselves as the party that protects, nurtures and empowers community politics. It’s not how we campaign, so much as what we campaign for.

  • Indeed, Joe B, I agree with that historical insight. In some ways it goes back further. I was following Neil Oliver’s TV series on Scottish history and was startled to hear him quoting Duns Scotus in the early 14th century to the effect that power came from the people and if a ruler misused it, the people were entitled to take it away from him.

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