A central argument used by the right (and LibDems – who seem on the right now, which even Richard Grayson agrees with) to help support their ‘Big Society’ agenda that Cameron has outlined today, in his radical reform speech, is localism. Consider the following from an article on ConHome today:
“Cameron not only has the chance to do the same today, but to take the Liberal Democrats with him, sparking the localist instincts that differentiate them from Labour. Localism means experiment, risk and imperfection, but the new Leader of the Opposition may well find that being on the side of pessimism is a bad place to be. That the state should fund but not run all public services – because others can often do the job better – isn’t dogmatic ideology, it’s common sense.”
There are several problems with this statement. For one, there will be a great reduction in the actual state funding of public services, so it not only state running that will be cut. Secondly, correct me if I am wrong, but there is not a lot to be optimistic about when considering the increase in women’s poverty that will occur because of the ‘Big Society’, the wide-ranging cuts and the promotion of inequality and post code lottery provision where the wealthiest will benefit.
There is no need for the opposition, and here I don’t just mean Labour as the commentator above does, to appear negative when opposing the type of localism of which the Tories/LibDems are proposing. The idea of risk and imperfection aren’t really the buzz words I would want to attach to important services such as education and health, which are vital for people’s future and livelihoods – but the crash way that the government are going about carrying out in some places 40% departmental cuts, well I don’t think it concerns them.
Instead, the oppositional progressive left need to join together and formulate a progressive vision of localism. Localism is desirable, that is why Cameron’s caught on so well – but not when implemented ConDem style. The state is not the problem, and it doesn’t have to be cut and hacked away at so that localism can work. Instead, the state can play a vital role in providing localism – and this is not counter-intuitive. Just take co-ops for example, the proper extension of these (not private sector extension) provides for proper local involvement.
Furthermore, nationalisation of vital services that should be universally accessible such as education and health, well that would provide for greater localism. Again, you may think that is being counter-intuitive, but consider a service that is accessible to all – there would be a promotion of a community spirit, not an ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ mentality – there would be a common goal in investing in all children’s future, not in perpetuating the segregation that already occurs across the educational sector, for example.
Localism cannot operate without a level of state direction and without the state, the services will suffer, and people’s involvement will also decline. Local government control needs to be extended too – there needs to be more cooperation with the public and the local and central government, this is true. But to argue that people should be in charge of running schools for example, without the assistance of the state to provide useful guidelines so that services are delivered fairer and progressively – well this is just gambling with people’s future, and does little to provide for better services. Instead, it just takes away the need for the government to account for the way the services are ran.
Furthermore, the local government has been on the end of the harshest of cuts, thus, the progressive left need to form a counter hegemony that illustrates how cutting this service reduces localism.
Localism is desirable, but localism envisaged by the ConDem’s is regressive, undesirable and the opposition need pluralistic localised agenda to help provide an effective counter hegemony.