It’s community, stupid

If there has been any positive from the last few weeks, it is the growth in community action. Support groups have been set up in many communities across the country, all focused on helping vulnerable people and supporting those that need it.

The Liberal Democrats have also been at it. Ed Davey launched the Coronavirus Taskforce in March, utilising the party’s army of volunteers to make thousands of calls to residents across the UK, checking whether vulnerable residents required help.

In Cheadle, there has been an incredible community movement. Helping Hands, a volunteer group, has assisted hundreds of residents collect prescriptions and groceries, whilst Cheadle FM has been started to keep those isolated residents without access to digital platforms updated and in touch with the outside world. Check it out at!

The thing that has made me so proud of these examples is that they have truly come from the grass roots. All these groups have been started by residents and community leaders, not politicians.

Yes, the Cheadle Lib Dem team have helped where we could. Be it is through helping to secure additional funding or by simply donating feet on the ground when required. However, it was “regular” people that started these movements – not the Council, not the Government.

The lesson, for me at least, is that people come together when needed and the best thing that any party can do is to give people and communities the power and platform to organise effectively.

It should not be a surprise. Despite the divisive nature of the last General Election and the dominance of Brexit as an issue, on the doors people still raised issues that affected their local area more than they raised more traditional “national issues”, such as foreign affairs for example.

Local policing, protection of green spaces and funding for local transport all dominated hustings debates.

In Cheadle, we had the second biggest vote share in the North of England (only bettered by Tim Farron) and lost by just 2,336 votes. If we are going to get over the line next time, it will be on the work we do in our communities, we cannot wait until we get a more sympathetic national picture.

The much-discussed election review has highlighted many issues that need resolving within our party. From the relationship between the party Leader, Chief Executive and President, right through to the culture of our party and attitude towards members, everything has quite rightly been questioned.

But when we eventually move forward, it is vital that the party does not forget that it’s our communities that need to be put front and centre of our thinking. We need to continue our proud tradition of putting people first and providing them the power to shape their lives and communities.

If we have learnt anything from the last few months it must be this – community action can change lives for the better, not Westminster.

* Tom Morrison is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Cheadle, community campaigner, and associate director of a specialist communications agency.

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  • Michael Sammon 26th May '20 - 10:01pm

    Inspiring article, especially for northern seats. Thank you.

  • Spot on. Empowering local communities should be at the heart of our politics. Too often that degrades into empowering local councils, which is not the same thing.

  • Tom is right to focus on starting with local communities, but Chris is wrong to imply that local councils are secondary to this. People often express their needs but find that local councils need to be part of the solution and those councils do not have the resources or powers to do much about it. At election time in our area, people often penalise the Borough Council, when many of the faults lie with the County Council and vice versa. The reluctance to vote in local elections is usually associated with blame on both local councils, which should instead be targeted at Westminster.
    For some matters, people can do things themselves and in that sense community action is not quite the same as local council action, but you cannot usually separate the two. I sat on a working party examining the relation between the Borough and Parish councils and it was good to see how efficient and effective some parishes were, but for that to be used even more there was a need for Borough support.
    As a party, Localism in its broadest sense, is key both to the way peoples’ needs are met, the way we are governed nationally and also (as the Thornhill Review implies) within our own party. Let’s remove the English Party and devolve to Regional committees for a start. Local community activity carried out simultaneously with a change in party governance is surely key to moving this party forward.

  • Well Nigel, whether I am right or wrong is really a value judgement and one based on whether you truly believe that decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level.
    My four year tenure as a borough councilor taught me that while members of all parties gave lip service to the idea of localism, what they really meant was that they thought they should be the ones making the important decisions.
    Clearly not all decisions can be taken at a neighborhood level, but those that can should be. The reality is that in most places no structures even exist to allow “street level” democracy.
    You are, of course, entirely correct in saying that many voters are unable to distinguish between the powers held by central, county and borough councils, but that is a rather different matter.
    Interested to hear that you think that parish councils are efficient, though I note your working party was looking at the relationship between borough councils and parish councils, not between parish councils and the public. I can only add that the experience in my part of the country is slightly different. Parish councils in my experience fail to connect with local people, have limited power (often by choice), are elected on a tiny turnout, too often members are not elected at all but co-opted. Cronyism is rampant, to the entent that known liberal democrats are rarely co-opted by Tory dominated P.C.s. In short, they are the very antithesis of good local democracy and should be replaced by Neighborhood forums open to all.
    Surely localism means that every citizen has a chance to contribute to the decisions, taken locally, that affect their lives. Getting a vote every four years does make a council democratic in my view.
    In an excellent PPB in September 2018, Alastair Carmichael said “The point of government a far as a liberal is concerned is to take power to give it back”. That will do for me.

  • “DOESN’T make a council democratic”. Typo, obviously.

  • Sue Sutherland 27th May '20 - 2:12pm

    Thank you for this timely reminder Tom and I agree with Nigel Jones that localism is the key to the way we are governed nationally, but not just geographic localism.
    People respond to the message of community politics and this has been a large factor in our gaining LA seats and even parliamentary seats. Unfortunately we have been unable to translate that enthusiasm for local communities into national politics. However, there is the same dysfunction between authoritarian behaviour nationally with people feeling disempowered, as there is at local level. The hostile environment is overt in some cases and in others is the result of the government’s view of society, which is authoritarian for both Labour and the Conservatives. We are the only party which sees society as interlocking communities with nurturing, rather than favouritism or repression, as a means of creating the best society for most people.
    We should be looking at measures to increase public involvement in decisions at a national level. The existing petition system is a joke. In concentrating on the voting system, we have forgotten about root and branch reform. The Corona pandemic has brought the need to restrain our actions in order that others may survive to the forefront of political discussion and the vast majority of the public have altered their behaviour, recognising the validity of that need. Now is the time to talk about Liberalism for the 21st century and make it clear that we have a totally different approach to political engagement.
    So let’s get on with reforming our party and electing a new leader so that we can campaign on a new platform of community welfare.

  • Laurence Cox 27th May '20 - 4:14pm

    @Dave Page

    I joined a political party with a philosophy, not the National Volunteering Service.

    Go away and read “The Theory and Practice of Community Politics” by Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman:

    What they are doing now in Cheadle is just what the Liberals started doing from the late 60s onwards and which brought the Party many successes; it was when leaders like Clegg thought we didn’t have to bother with it that the Party started going downhill.

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