‘The image makes me think of neighbourhoods because there’s a similar tendency in policy discourse to talk about the ‘ordinary families’ living in ‘typical streets’ that make up ‘your average neighbourhood’. From this lofty perspective, neighbourhoods must seem equally monotonous…
‘The reality is very different. If we take time to look, we can see that neighbourhoods are full of gems and shells, rocks and pearls. People with unexpected stories, landmarks loaded with significance, networks of friendliness and gossip.’
The analogy works nicely to expose the awkwardness of generalisation in policy: but we still have to address that problem.
One place to start would be by dealing with the heavily centralised power base that dominates most policy discourse. An interview today with Simon Hughes on The World This Weekend provides an example. The point was made that the unpopularity of a government in power is commonly a direct cause of the demise of local councillors at local elections. The Lib Dems lost 40 per cent of their local elected members at the last local election. As Hughes conceded (at around 14:15) - ‘that’s very unfair on councillors.’
It’s also an inadequate foundation for localism, demonstrating how the dominant cause-effect reaction between centre and local is in the wrong direction. Localism will remain little more than a conceding gesture until we have circumstances in which central government is forced more consistently and realistically to take account of local politics. At the moment that tends only to happen when MPs feel threatened locally by constituents’ reactions to central government policy.
If we had some way of packaging and presenting in the aggregate, to coin a phrase, the achievements, distinctiveness and concerns of local people through the legitimate channel of local democracy, and central government had no choice but to take it into account, we might start to see policy at a national level that reflects the fine-grained richness and diversity that John refers to.
Long way to go, especially since the political party (aforementioned) most likely to push such an agenda has messed up a bit lately.