Opinion: Localism is the answer

This year, there’s a lot of concern about public service cuts and rises in taxes for certain groups. This, to me, indicates the problem facing anyone in government – the British public wants better public services and lower taxes.

I fully believe that the electorate is not stupid. But, right now, it’s somebody else’s problem – how to square the circle between wanting good public services and as much cash as is needed to achieve this, and paying as little tax as possible. These aims are mutually exclusive in the main, and certainly as exercised by New Labour and Tory.

The trouble is, we have had a two-party hegemony up until now. That hegemony stands for those two different things, only sticking their neck out for headline-grabbing acts that play to their narratives to “stand up for public services” by spending money (Labour) and “keeping Britain open for business” by cutting tax (Tories).

That is grossly over-simplified of course, but that’s how your slightly politically involved person will see it – the loud person in your office with an opinion, the kind of person who influences others…

It seems to me that now the right time for Localism. But, how can localism help with this issue? I’m reminded of certain experiences that I’ve had in work and in campaigning, where I haven’t appreciated the scale of the problem or what’s needed to overcome it until I’ve actually got to the coalface. I’m also reminded of taking part, last year, in an exercise on where money should be spent in a local government budget like this one – which was eye-opening.

So my prescription is, more localism!

It’s in the spirit of community politics that by devolving power back to people you are likely to achieve more efficient outcomes. This especially applies to the kind of community aware, keen-to-help folk that get things done.

But I’m also convinced that if you look at competing demands yourself, you understand how it’s useless to keep moaning about needing more public services and paying less tax forever, and that there must be a better way of doing it.

In short, devolving power through localism leads to a more “can-do” attitude. Now, to get the loud person in the office to be the community aware person – that’s our next challenge!

* Louise Shaw is a member in Hazel Grove, a board member of Liberal Reform and a member of the working group on the OMOV proposals

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  • Paul Ankers 26th Mar '12 - 4:03pm

    Interesting points and ones we should have been stuggling with for some time.

    Those most turned on by localism take hold of a party rosette and maintain hegemonies at local levels and it would be niave to think people develop those hegemonies when they join parties. I could find some research that showed hippy communes were less peace and love and more coercion than even our Campaign department woul exert.
    And there are aspects of localism than even champions of localism don’t like. I am pretty sure Richard Kemp is anti Police commissioners, but pro-localism.
    I am pro elected Health Authorities and Housing Associations, which are where the power over people’s lives are if you follow the money.
    And its worth noting a wild variance in community volunteering and involvement which favours the middle classes yet again. Just like choice in schools & libraries, localism is a middle class preserve.

  • Daniel Henry 26th Mar '12 - 4:56pm

    I’ve always thought a good way to promote localism is by persuading voters that the more power their local council has, the less they have to fear from a Westminster government. The less the north and inner cities have to worry about the Tories taking control, and the less the south and countryside areas have to worry about Labour getting in.

  • Like the photo….is he a local cutting down the hegemonies?

  • Simon McGrath 26th Mar '12 - 10:00pm

    Excellent , but we have to accept that a) some decisions will be ones we will not like and b) different communities will make decisions about priorities which will mean what services are provided will vary.

  • DAVE WARREN 27th Mar '12 - 8:58am

    I agree we do need to refocus on localism and community politics.

    I also believe strongly that this must be accompanied by a campaign to eliminate waste and bureaucracy.

    Councils throw money away on red tape while cutting services. Lib Dems should be fighting against this.

    Unfortunately it appears that some of our councillors have been absorbed by the system rather than
    trying to reform it.

  • Dave Warren: sadly that is a pretty inevitable side-effect of the current system. Yes Minister show’s beautifully how the idealistic stuffing gets knocked out and replaced by coils of red tape. Less cuddly; more efficient, Minister (or Councillor).

    My concern about localism is how it means different things to different people. The coalition seem to think it means devolve the financial risk to local authorities. Vanilla Tories tend to mean “small government”. Lib Dems seem to mean empowering local people to control their own environs. Naturally, I identify with the last definition. But this is less popular among my colleagues when it means that Blah ward want their prize public asset to be protected from all savings.

    For localism to mean anything, elected people must be willing to yield some of their power to those affected by decisions. They must be willing to consult local people on local matters. All good Lib Dems know this. Sadly, not all of our parliamentarians or Councillors remember this when it matters.

  • Paul’s point is pertinent I think, even as Simon Banks disagrees. I think a few of us may be aware of Local Parties that like to centralise and keep all the power for themselves. There is always the temptation to be seen as “working hard” you have to do everything yourself, which is where I agree with Paul.

    Simon Banks – you advance the argument well here, yes – there needs to be collaboration between the different areas. Can this be achieved easier at local level, where the actual health providers, job centre , policemen will probably know each other. Someone, I think Richard Kemp, said your as a councillor your local PCSO should be on your speed dial. This is the kind of thinking I think we need to move the UK forward, rather than relying on the hegemony of Labour and Tories, both of which have vested interests in keeping things the way they are, because then they can scream at “the other lot”.

    Simon McGrath – indeed – postcode lottery is one of the most annoying accusations to be thrown at one. Once we work out how to win that argument (it does tend to stick, unfortunately!) we could perhaps make this wider case at a higher level.

  • Lon Won – I’m going to read your blog post and reply later

  • Lon Won – very impressed, great in depth blog. We seem to be thinking along the same lines. And yes, there is not a lot of belief in localism, even if it may be the answer…

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