Wednesday, 31 March 2010

End of the line for localism?

The Tories and New Labour have both made announcements today about the importance of local communities taking more responsibility for running public services.

David Cameron calls this the next Big Idea and wants to see every adult in the country actively involved in at least one community group.

Labour wants to see Surestart users as stakeholders in the service.

Everyone's getting very excited and the LibDems - the still small voice of reasonableness that everyone ignores - are pointing out that people are too over-burdened finiancially and exhausted physically and mentally to think of dashing out to this or that community committee of an evening.

So who's right?

Is it the LibDems who seem to be pointing to a grim reality where the majority of people would rather grudgingly reheat a TV dinner for the kids and then collapse in front of the soaps in their free-time?

Or is the assumption that the two main parties are making correct? Are people really prepared to give up their leisure to make a bigger difference personally to their local experience?

Put like this I think they are, and I think the assumption is right. People are naturally resourceful and resilient and want to be self-sufficient. As individuals we are motivated to act and make a difference for ourselves and others. A whole self-help industry is based on the human desire to become self-actualised in service of others. (Honest.)

However, put these assumptions into the mouths of politicians in the run-up to a general election and all of a sudden what sounded like a fabulous sociological goal becomes, unfortunately, little more than politicised twaddle.

While localism was the preserve of ideological publications, rarefied courses at Schumacher college and the life-long,extraordinarily prescient rants of auricularly well-endowed heirs to the throne, it was an acceptable notion, freely available for anyone to examine, reflect upon and consider applying in their own lives.

But now, like teenagers whose musical tastes are dictated by peer pressure, we have most likely been united against the idea of localism by the political gangs who have recently espoused it as the probable basis of their future policies.

Listening to their latest tit-for-tatting on the subject invokes an involuntary twitch of our collective auto-dumbing down muscle.

This saddens me. I'm all for reducing food miles and building self-sustaining communities, and I just hope there's still some mileage left in this Big Idea.

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