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 [insert couple of small caveats]”.

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 least one priority should be the question of building, even creating, communities. In large parts of the country it used to be the case that people lived in the same home for many years, went to the same place of work as many others in their street and prayed in the same building once a week alongside many neighbours. All three of those sources of community have declined greatly. Moreover, with a falling birth rate that other frequent route to getting to know neighbours – parenthood – is also wearing much thinner than it was.

That means that creating a community now needs to be the first step in Community Politics far more frequently than it was when it was born. This is not a challenge that should put us off, for in recent years in particular a whole range of activities and ways of thinking around creating and strengthening communities has sprung up – particular following the concept of ‘social capital’ and the seminal work by Robert Putnam Bowling Alone. Add to that the different forms of community which the internet can support and there is much to be positive about.

If you’re a councillor, you can in fact start putting such positive thoughts into action right away, regardless of what Gordon, David or anyone else subsequently thinks up. Simply take a look at your council’s website and then see how it measures up against the idea of creating social capital.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • James Sandbach 30th Sep '11 - 1:23pm

    I’d also comment that that we’re not recognising the disconnect between what we say about community politics and the impact of some coalition policies on community based services; I’d cite as an exampe the legal aid reforms which are completely dishing community advice agencies such as CABx – longstanding partners in local casework and campaigns.

    See https://www.libdemvoice.org/tag/legal-aid for discussion threads on this

  • Simon Titley 30th Sep '11 - 2:28pm

    Mark Pack seems to think that the only communities are geographical ones. But many communities are no longer based on geography.

    For example, many younger adults who work in large cities no longer have much affinity to the place where they live. They chose their home on the basis of what they could afford within reasonable commuting distance. They barely know their neighbours, let alone socialise with them.

    Instead, their ‘communities’ are the colleagues and friends they meet in city centre pubs, bars and restaurants – it’s their common space (which is a major reason why there has been such a boom in these catering establishments in recent years – and why they always seem to be full of younger adults).

    This is why local Focus teams are finding that the typical content of their Focus leaflets has little traction with younger voters. Anyone who regards their home area as nothing more than a dormitory – and never reads the local press – frankly doesn’t care much about the sort of issues that fill a Focus leaflet, such as potholes or pedestrian crossings.

    The last thing the Liberal Democrats should do is turn themselves into Butlin’s Redcoats, trying to force everyone to participate in communal fun. If existing geographical communities share a genuine community of interest, fine. But we must also think creatively about how we can adapt community politics to the growing number of people with no strong traditional community roots, whose idea of community does not revolve around broken paving stones.

  • Stephen Donnelly 30th Sep '11 - 7:48pm

    For many people their community is their family, or cricket team or place of worship. They may not share our interest in local politics, and could simply prefer watching Come Dancing on TV. What is the role for a political party in this ? My feeling is that a liberal party should concentrate on removing barriers to participation, should create open structures and tackle concentrations of power. I do not see a role for liberals in picking the lifestyles that people should lead anymore than I think Ed Millband can tell the difference between good and bad companies. I support Gareth Epps in saying that ‘It’s about defending the things that make communities work’ but am not sure about ‘building up enhancements on top of that’. The role of a liberal political party is not to create communities, but to let them be.

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