There is a problem with the common account of Brexit as a phenomenon driven by the rising up of “neglected communities” against the London-centric establishment that put them in that state. It’s that it ignores the extent to which communities in this country have actually broken down. I’m sure that plenty of Liberal Democrats might think that local organisations, pressure groups, housing associations are still central parts of life in this country, but we have to remember that we are a poor representative sample of the country at large (through volunteering and activism, and even simply through our interest in politics at all, we are far more likely to be engaged with what is going on in our local area, and the local associations involved in decision making there).

The reality is that the trend towards anti-establishment politics has occurred on the laptops and in the homes of voters, not in church halls or function rooms. Despite our best efforts, the significance of the communal in the sphere of the political remains a latent, but ultimately unrealised dream. It is not that active local communities, engaged in the political process, collectively voted in bulk for Brexit last June, but rather that disgruntled voters do not have access to genuine, worthwhile communal associations that in the past fostered trust and strengthened communities, in turn making them feel empowered and engaged in the national political process. Voters as individuals felt distant from Westminster, not as communities. As Lib Dems, we ought to be disturbed and willing to reembrace a radical localism if we are serious about combatting radical anti-system politics.

Where can we draw ideas from? I can’t pretend to know the solutions, but I believe we need to reopen debate on how best to “do localism” in future. We need to recognise that there is strong evidence that invigorated community groups, and empowered local institutions lead to happier, more cohesive societies and revives faith in the political system nationally. Communitarian thinkers like Robert Putnam, and modern sociologists like Mike Savage, describe how “social capital” is fostered and enhanced by strong local communities. A debate inside this party about how we can reaffirm and enhance our historic commitment to empowering communities and reinvigorating local politics, followed by our adopting a worthwhile set of policies on actually realising this, would go a long way towards helping us win and shape Britain in both the short and long term.

Theresa May’s government thinks the remedy for the frustration behind Brexit is through a new commitment to the state. Big, national statist policies might help her image on certain issues, but it will not reverse the trend that has detached voters from communities and in turn from the sphere of the political. As a party, we ought to be the party of the 48%, but we also ought to be serious about helping the 52% find faith in the system again. We can only achieve this if we find a new and restructured model for British politics that first rebuilds, then empowers communities, and which has as its organising principle a bottom-up approach to power. So let’s have an open and honest debate about our party’s commitment to localism that takes stock of what has worked well in the past, and embraces a new agenda for the future that we can put at the centre of a powerfully liberal and radical manifesto at the next election.

* Guy Russo was the Parliamentary Candidate in Enfield North at the General Election and is an Ex-President of the Queen Mary University of London Liberal Democrats.