Tag Archives: community politics

Listen: Alistair Carmichael MP is first guest of new podcast series

Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael took some time to speak to the new team behind Debated, Will Barber Taylor and Conrad Lewandowski .

Alistair talks about the resurgence of the Lib Dems, the success of the local elections, the impact of Brexit on that vote, and what is next.

Have a listen!

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The Brexit Myth

The recent success of the Liberal Democrats at the 2019 Local Elections is something which, undoubtedly, has brought a great amount of joy to all of us who have weathered this five year storm. However, a narrative has already taken shape, one that threatens future momentum and growth – that this is attributable only to Brexit and Brexit related issues. This is a reading that is surface level. A little thought and a cursory digging dispels this myth.

First of all, we must look at who benefited most from the Conservative and Labour defeat. Of course, at a gain of 704 we have come first, with independents taking second, Greens third, and Residents Associations taking fourth, with smaller parties making up the rest. This break down is important. Surely, if this was an affect only of a Brexit backlash then RA’s would not have done as well? Indeed, the SDP came second in the wards they ran in, and independents fly under a myriad of different banners. Even the Brexit supporting Liberal Party gained a councillor in Liverpool and regained prominence on Pickering Town Council. The question, then, is this – what do these groups have in common? The trend seems to be one of a yearning for community, with each grouping possessing a strong communitarian streak. The Liberal Democrats were the forerunners of community politics, independent candidates tend toward community issues, and RA’s are based in this kind of thought. The SDP also describe themselves as “nation state communitarians”.

The second important indicator is the local election results in Northern Ireland, with the performance of the non-sectarian Alliance and Green parties. Though the DUP and Sinn Fein still retained the majority of councillors, both experienced a drop in seat share. The UUP experienced a drop that was more akin to the Tories, with Alliance being the main beneficiary. That non-sectarian parties are finally expanding their influence on the local level, even if the hegemony has not been broken, is indicative of the same trend seen in England – people are looking for community-centric alternatives who act in the interests of all who are living in the immediate area.

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How can we be seen as relevant again?

We have to offer people what they need, and I don’t think we are doing that.

The Southport Conference earlier this month, besides passing many useful motions, agreed a Strategy, grandly entitled, ‘Ambitious for our party, ambitious for our country.’ We are good on noble ideas. ‘Create a political and social movement which encourages people to take and use power in their own lives and communities’ – that’s a natural extension of our famous Preamble, ‘We seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community’.

But is anybody heeding us out there, even in the less than half of the population which takes some interest in politics?

Well, let’s be fair. Even in our diminished state, 7% in the national polls, we attract many more voters in Local Government elections. Our councillors are often known as work-horses who eat up local problems. Community Politics is still a big belief for us – ‘we will empower the individual in his or her community’. A current article here by Oliver Craven emphasises the point.

But I’ve come to believe that it is not enough for us to campaign locally to make a big impact. That’s because there’s precious little ‘community’ in our deeply divided country today for us to work with.

This week is what Christians call Holy Week, leading up to Good Friday, but fewer and fewer British people go to church to find a community. In the workplaces, ever fewer people join trade unions as more people take ill-paid non-unionised jobs. So the Conservatives win elections in formerly working-class areas, and Labour penetrates prosperous south-east towns.

Who feels part of a community in Britain today? Not, certainly, working families on the minimum wage who with curtailed benefits can’t afford even the basics and have to resort to Food Banks. Not people forced out of privately-rented homes into emergency accommodation, sometimes ending up living in another city. Not those trying to make ends meet through ill-paid temporary jobs or chancy self-employment.

There’s little sense of community either for sick folk obliged to stay in hospital for want of social care, or stuck caring for family members themselves at home, or for lonely old people sitting on park benches to talk to somebody. There’s no community for the depressed or for the oppressed.

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Finding our way again

What was it like becoming an activist in 1978? Well, you were given a bundle of newspapers to deliver. No change since then apparently?  You might also be lent a copy of The Theory and Practice of Community Politics, which you thought about, discussed and, importantly, set about acting upon in all the communities to which you belonged.

Neither the people who had developed this new form of Liberalism and fought for the Party to accept it, nor those who followed this theory and practice in the 80s and 90s, would have thought  that forty years later they would be accused of having no values or philosophy and of just callously saying anything to get elected, which is how this kind of activism is attacked today.

The idea of Community Politics was to create a movement.  It was sufficient in many areas to campaign directly in the many communities to which people belong, at work, at home, in their neighbourhoods and in wider non-geographically based communities.  But it also adopted a second avenue (in what was called the Dual Approach) which was to seek election to councils and parliaments where policy could be changed so as to help achieve the central objective – which was to help people take and use power in their communities.

Our philosophy went back to Mill and especially to T.H. Green and from him to the New Liberals.

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Community Politics – putting people first

Liberal Democrats believe that the state exists to serve and enable individuals to live their lives to the full.  Our starting point is the individual. We want to find ways of enabling and encouraging each person to fulfil his or her own potential.

We believe that men and women have an immense, largely unrealised capacity for self-direction, self-cultivation, self-understanding and creativity.  People are not sheep to be flocked, cattle to be herded or oxen to be led; it is inhuman to reduce people to the status of objects to be manipulated, directed or discarded.

It is the right of every human to share the liberty and the opportunity to experiment, to experience, to learn and to influence his or her surroundings. This is the ethos that drives the Liberal Democrats.  It is not about having one’s own way; it is about having a way that is one’s own.

A liberal community does not dictate how people should live, but liberates people to live as they please so long as that in doing so they do not impinge upon the freedoms and rights of others.  It does not provide for the needs of the citizen, but rather enables the citizen to provide for their own needs.

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Opinion: Have we forgotten the basics of community politics?

Do we still do community politics? “Of course we do,” all Lib Dems will say, particularly after press comments on Lorely Burt’s “dog poo” speech at a conference fringe meeting. But I’m not so sure.

A while back when I advised residents to use the local Text the Council number to report flytipping etc, my colleague, a hard working ex-councillor was horrified. ‘Don’t do that,” he told me, “get them to text you so that we get the credit for reporting it.”

And of course we do that all the time and it earns us votes.

But wasn’t part of the point of community politics, as set out in the 1970s by the ALC and the Young Liberals, to create an empowered citizenry, to help residents to take responsibility for their neighbourhoods and hopefully absorb Liberal values in doing so?

Posted in Op-eds | 14 Comments

Opinion: Our liberal identity crisis

Does anyone know why the Liberal Democrats exist ? It’s an important question.

IPSOS/Mori research in 2012 into voter perceptions found that 64% “don’t know what the Liberal Democrats stand for these days” (57% for Labour, 44% the Tories). This was echoed even amongst party supporters, with 41% of Lib Dem voters unclear (42% for Labour voters, 37% Conservatives). “Our polling now shows that the Liberal Democrats have the toughest task telling voters what they stand for”, the report concluded.

We need to acknowledge that our party has an identity challenge nationally, and blaming the coalition would be too convenient. …

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Opinion: Individual freedom and power should be our distinctive Lib Dem identity

It seems that every few days there is another soul-searching LibDem blog or newspaper article asking: “what do we believe in?” “What do we stand for?” “What’s the coherent narrative behind the string of ‘Lib Dem achievements in government’?” What we need to do is urgently define ourselves in contrast to – not in relation to – the other major parties.

What we need to do is build a strong national identity.“Individual freedom and power” should be the phrase that the Liberal Democrats adopt to assert their distinctive identity for three reasons.

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The stimulus of applying for low-carbon community funding

Today will see the announcement of the successful applicants to the first round of LEAF funding from the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC). Congratulations to all!

I’m involved in a bid to be submitted on Friday, so I appreciate the work it took to get the bids in on time. We’re undertaking three months’ work in as many weeks, I’m told.

LEAF is the “Local Energy Assessment Fund” – a.k.a. loose change DECC found in its trousers pockets before the year-end wash. It was announced in December with two bid rounds. It’s £10 million for …

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Opinion: What do the Lib Dems and the Big Society have in common?

Being a student, I am lucky enough to have very flexible working hours, and I’ve put these to good use this autumn helping with Brian Paddick’s campaign to become the first Lib Dem Mayor of London.

Something I’ve noticed with creeping inevitability about the campaign is the similarities between myself and the other people turning up on Fridays – the vast majority of whom are male and pale like me.

This is symptomatic of a wider problem with volunteer organisations in general, and cuts to the heart of a political philosophical gulf between us and the tories: volunteers are people in a position to volunteer.

While conservatives were perfectly at …

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The party’s back to front: why our political messaging is wrong

Hearing both Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg speak several times at local Liberal Democrat events over the summer, something not quite right about their speeches was nagging away at the back of my mind.

It was not the delivery, for both have speaking styles which are excellently suited to the semi-formal audience of between 20 and 100 which is common at such events.

Nor was it about the consistency of message: without either lapsing into robotic repetition of the sort that served Ed Miliband so badly in his notorious public sector strikes interview, both in their different ways were echoing the …

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Updating Community Politics: the role for social capital

My short answer in response to David Boyle having only two cheers for Community Politics is: “I agree”.

The slightly longer response to David is: “I mostly agree, but “.

The nearly long enough to justify a blog post version is…

David Boyle is right to raise the concerns he did, and had he been in the hall he would have not only heard Gordon Lishman himself express similar concerns but also the excellent news that Gordon is intending to draw in a wide group of people to some of that thinking and updating that we all think is necessary.

For me at …

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Opinion: Only two cheers for community politics

I wasn’t there to hear the Birmingham conference back the community politics motion on Tuesday. I had meant to be but had to go back to London early.

It was one of those pieces of sacred Liberalism that you daren’t speak against, but I would have done. I’m not sorry it was passed but the party must also understand that there is another side to it.

Community politics may be a revolutionary doctrine, but BAD community politics – and we have practised some of that occasionally, let’s face it – damages the party and damages the political process.

I know I’m …

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LibLink | Tim Farron: Community is our priority

Over at The Guardian, Lib Dem president Tim Farron acknowledges the bumpy ride of the first 15 months of Coalition, and stresses the centrality of community politics to the party. Here’s an excerpt:

The Lib Dems have led the way in the practice of community politics since, serving local communities across Britain in a way that engages them in the political process. Community politicians immerse themselves in their communities – empowering people to take action over the issues they face rather than the alternative, where politics is “done to” communities. Community politics is not just what liberals do, it’s part of who they are.

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Campaigning In Your Community: new book out

Phew, book number 18 that I’ve been involved in as author or editor is now out. It’s written by myself and Shaun Roberts, called “Campaigning In Your Community”. Think of it as as guide to getting going with community politics, starting from your own doorstep.

A free copy is being sent to every ALDC (Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors) member or you can buy copies from the ALDC online shop (sales only open to party members).

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Tim Farron MP writes: Out of the Westminster bubble

I’ve been away from Parliament for the last three weeks. My wife Rosie had an operation (nothing horribly serious, but nevertheless debilitating) so that leaves me at home to take care of her and the children.  
 
Being out of the Westminster bubble means I’m hearing the news the same way everyone else does – not from nuanced internal briefings, or from having been in the chamber during PMQs or a particular debate, but from the radio, the papers, the telly and the web.  And I’ve not been discussing the issues of the day with other MPs but instead with mums …

Posted in Conference and Op-eds | 7 Comments

Modernising community politics: creating communities

At the recent Social Liberal Forum conference, I took part in the panel on the Big Society and community politics. Regular readers won’t be surprised about the views I expressed on either of them (see for example here and here), but one point that I’ve not talked about for a while came out in discussion following a very pertinent question from Hackney’s Mark Smulian.

Mark rightly pointed out that the concept of community in the area where he lives, with a large transient population, was very different from what worked when community politics was first being created. Mark if …

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Campaigning in your local community

In the latest edition of ALDC’s Campaigner I previewed their next publication, written by myself and Shaun Roberts:

UPDATE: Campaigning In Your Community has now been published and is available for purchase.

In communities across the country there are improvements just waiting for a successful campaign to bring them about. Yet there are also people – far too many people in far too many places – who do not believe they and their neighbours have any power to change the streets around them, let alone the wider world.

Helping bring about those changes and helping people realise their own power should be at the …

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A challenge to Community Politics

Community Politics is an ideology beloved of many Liberal Democrats, even if not all are quite sure what it is. As Mark Pack points out, “Community Politics” is distinctively Lib Dem, and Mark contrasts it to Labour “localism” and the Conservative “Big Society”.

But is it right?

No ideology is completely correct – all have faults where they fail to capture certain facets and nuances of our complex human behaviour. Few are complete nonsense either – most ideologies have elements that capture something important, and it’s a foolish person indeed who dismisses any ideology completely.

Some are better than others, …

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Our lost phrase: community politics

On a hunch, earlier this year I did a little research ahead of writing a blog post for Liberal Democrat Voice: how often is the phrase “community politics” used by the party’s national spokespeople since the May 2010 election?

The answer was far worse than I’d feared. Looking through all of Nick Clegg’s major speeches, all the news release from him and also all those from others issued via the Liberal Democrat press team, I could only find one use of “community politics” – by Paul Burstow. Andrew Stunell deserves an honourable mention for using it in an LGA pamphlet …

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Opinion: How can we build a liberal movement?

Like a lot of Liberal Democrat friends, I was inspired by Barack Obama’s determination to build a long term movement for change across America. And for a couple of years I’ve been trying to copy his volunteer led approach to political organising, with some success.*

One element that is crucial to motivating volunteers is to have superb candidates, who are themselves heroes to their communities. This, of course, is a large element of good traditional community campaigning.

So I was delighted to see that in Peckham we are using our candidate’s amazing life story as the main motivator of volunteers on …

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Opinion: How can the community politics approach reform the Coalition?

“All change, all change here!” That was the shout of the bus-conductor as we reached the terminus. If only we had realised what a profound philosopher he was. For he is no more, nor is his role, nor the structure of society he inhabited.

Change and how to cope with it is at the heart of every human decision. The conservative wishes to take a measured step based on hard facts taken from experience. The progressive predicts the shape of the future and confidently proposes a radical leap.

By contrast, the community politician, the ideas behind whose activism we have begun

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Opinion: So what is this Community Politics all about then?

Party President, Tim Farron recently published on this site a very well received piece reminding us that we have, close to hand, the greatest opportunity in the history of our party.

He also observed that, “our biggest collective failure recently – from the grassroots to the cabinet – has been that too many Lib Dems have drifted from the sort of community politics that we have prided ourselves on in the past, or else been too busy to practice”.

Community politics is a much misunderstood concept practiced by many as an electoral technique and belittled by others as ‘pavement politics’.

I hope the …

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Tim Farron writes: Enough doom and gloom, we have the greatest opportunity in the history of our party

I don’t know if you noticed, but the elections on May 5th weren’t all that good for the Liberal Democrats. There was that business of the referendum defeat too. In much of the country we got an absolute pasting.

Journalists and non-political friends keep coming up to me with pained expressions, asking if I’m all right, speaking to me as if I’ve just suffered a bereavement. I smile back and tell them to get stuffed – I’m used to 2 things as a Liberal this last 25 years 1) losing stuff 2) not giving up!

So I for one am not prepared …

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Hundreds of tales of heartbreak and two numbers

The story of May’s election results is not one that can simply be told with numbers. There are too many tales of personal effort and loss for statistics to do justice to the crushing disappointment suffered by many who had worked hard for so long in hundreds of communities across the country.

Nor do statistics do justice to the brilliant resilience in a precious few places – those with amazing gains such as in the Cotswolds and those largely unsung heroes in areas such as Eastleigh and Three Rivers who have got on with running councils and winning elections year after …

Posted in Local government and Op-eds | 6 Comments

Learning the lessons from last week #5: You can’t be distinctive with someone else’s vocabulary

A favourite pastime of cynical journalists with space to fill is to take select phrases from the speeches of different party leaders, remove the names of the authors, jumble up the order and then ask the reader to guess which leader said which. Even with the wondrous variety of the English language, it’s no surprise that words and phrases often overlap, even between politicians with radically different views of the world. There is, even so, sometimes a deeper truth in this parlour game for cynics.

It’s a truth that the words of Liberal Democrats in the run up to last Thursday’s …

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Learning the lessons from last week #4: The party’s local government base matters

Broadly speaking, the party’s local government base is now back to where it was in 1993. As I put it:

For those who joined the Liberal Democrats in the last 18 months, and may not yet even have been in school in 1993, that may well seem a long time away and a big step back; for those who have seen the party’s ups and downs in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and ’00s, 1993 looks rather better – and nothing like as bad as the dog days of having a party leader on trial for conspiracy to murder (late 1970s) or

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The Big Society: the answer’s in the book

One of the curios of some library campaigners extolling the virtues of books whilst also mocking the Big Society for supposedly being incomprehensible or non-existent is that there is a short, clear and well-written book which lays out just what it is. Conservative MP Jesse Norman’s book, The Big Society, is certainly not uncontroversial, but it makes a sufficiently strong and clear case to have received favourable comments from across the political spectrum on its publication last autumn, including from Labour MP Jon Cruddas.

At times the book seems to have two, almost contradictory, purposes – to persuade traditional Conservatives …

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Using community politics to build a liberal society

This is the chapter I contributed to Reinventing the State, edited by Duncan Brack, Richard Grayson and David Howarth whose themes are still very relevant:

I have a secret to admit. I quite like big organisations.

Of course – as you would expect of a liberal – I think power should be kept at as local a level as possible, that organisations should be responsive to individuals, and so that smaller is frequently better – and that individuals’ freedom and rights get trampled on when Big Brother gets free rein.

But faced with the reality of actually trying to change the world, …

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Devolving power to local government: the record in government

Party conference in Sheffield saw the publication of Delivering Localism, a pamphlet from the Liberal Democrat Local Government Association Group which lays out the detailed policies being enacted by government to free up local councils and give them more power.

It’s very reliant on long lists of bullet points at times but it has some excellent content and is well worth a look through.

Oh, and Nick Clegg even uses “community politics” in the foreword; a response, so I hear, to my post on the matter. Ah, the power of blogging 🙂

Click on the icon below to view the document in full screen mode.

Posted in Local government | Also tagged | 4 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarRichard Underhill 14th Dec - 9:04pm
    " Mark Pack is a member of the Federal Board and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire. He is NOT a candidate for Party President" He...
  • User AvatarTony Greaves 14th Dec - 8:48pm
    I think this is the 16th General Election I have been politically involved with. I think our campaign, given the circumstances of them all, has...
  • User AvatarTony Greaves 14th Dec - 8:38pm
    So sort of 20%+ turnout. Says something about the way the party does things nowadays.
  • User AvatarTony Greaves 14th Dec - 8:36pm
    Reading between the lines of this from Vince Cable may go some way to explain why we have done so badly in this election. May...
  • User AvatarJoseph Bourke 14th Dec - 8:28pm
    Congratulations Mark. You are right to point out that "Our increased share of the vote, more second places and enlarged party membership, added to the...
  • User AvatarSesenco 14th Dec - 8:07pm
    Congratulations, Mark. I remember you from the early 1990s when you were a student activist. Those around me sneered. I thought you were talking sense....
Tue 7th Jan 2020