The limits to localism: cynicism in response to the UK Coalition

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The limits to localism: tensions
on the road to reform
Gerry Stoker
University of Southampton
http://www.southampton.ac.uk/C2G2/
why localism?
• the case for localism is strong and widely
suported in general terms by citizens and
experts
• responsiveness to diverse local needs
• easier and more accessible base for citizen
engagement
• away from the hothouse of national politics
can be more strategic, long-term,non-partisan
Evidence of public support
• citizens generally sense they have more influence over local
governing agencies
• 24% feel they have some influence on local decision-making
compared to only 12% at the national level
• citizens feel they can influence local agencies to a greater degree
• 56% agree that when people like them get involved in a local
community they change things, only 32% say the same about
potential to influence the country
• Source: Audit of Political Engagement, 2012
Localism as a strategy
• In 2000s under New Labour as part of a
strategy to reform public services
• Always part of the rhetoric of the Lib Dems
• Taken forward by Cameron Conservatives as
part critique of top-down New Labour, part
expression of renewed interest in society and
anti-state rhetoric
We have some experience of different
forms of localism in England
• Managerial localism : conditional devolution of decision-making
based on achieving agreed objectives
• Community localism: Rights and support given to citizens in
communities to engage in decisions and action
• Representative localism : Provision of powers and responsibility to
local government agency elected on universal suffrage
• The last option has been relatively under-used because of
unwillingness to grant powers to existing local government but
mayors and commissioners could be seen as exemplars
Yet localism not setting the world
alight
• turnout in local elections is fairly low and
appears difficult to shift up
• mayoral referenda have seen low turnout and
low levels of support; police commissioners a
similar path?
• limited embrace by citizens of opportunities
created recently
• difficult to point to a great wave of innovation in
service delivery stimulated by localism
• Its sister concept of the BIG society has also
struggled
Why? Answers
• Citizens like the idea of localism but not the
effort involved
• The localism on offer is hedged and flawed :
makes for risk adverse response
• Citizens‘ mood is strongly anti-politics and
engagement
• The implementation practice of the Coalition
Government is shambolic
How interested are citizens?
• Strong evidence of trade off thinking when it
comes to engagement
• But if politics on offer better then interest
increases
• Interest not fixed and could be mobilized by
an effective localism
• A realistic understanding of the extent of
direct engagement is essential
what people say vs what they do
Q
In principle, would you support or oppose extending Community
Partnerships to other parts of the Borough?
Q
And would you personally be interested in getting involved?
Involvement
Support
Don’t know
Don’t know/no
opinion
Depends
12%
No, oppose
2%
18%
26%
6%
Yes,
support
82%
Base: All residents (1,021)
Yes
54%
No
Base: All respondents who
support the idea (835)
A positive trigger increases interest in
politics by a third
Table 1: Interest in politics by age and triggers
Age Range
18-24
25-34
35-44
Fixed Interest % Negative Trigger
%
44.8
24.5
47.1
18.2
52.3
16.3
Positive Trigger
%
30.6
34.7
31.3
Numbers in
sample
245
340
294
45-54
52.6
17.7
29.7
293
55-64
51.3
11.1
37.6
271
65-74
60.3
8.2
31.5
232
75+
65.0
7.7
27.2
169
All ages
52.4
15.4
32.2
1844
Source: Audit of Political Engagement Survey, December 2011 and January 2012 (NB: percentage
figures are rounded)
Weak localism on offer
• Negative freedom from rather than positive
capacity building
• Context of spending cuts and weak economic
growth make it hard
• Strings, complexities and hedges abound
Police commissioners
• Police commissioner elections: creating a
weak , marginal actor ... constrained by
national priorities, agencies, and parties...
• With limited reach into many communities:
the spectre of low turnout
• Confused or complex accountability?
• The case for local democratic accountability
can be made but this appears a far from
perfect vehicle
Cynicism and disengagement is high
• A mountain to climb in terms of disenchantment
• The 2012 Hansard survey results tells us that for the first
time in the survey’s history less than half the population
are certain to vote in the next general election.
• Interest in politics has dropped to an all time low of 42 per
cent and only a third of citizens have even been bothered
to discuss politics in the last year.
• Only a quarter of citizens think are system of government
works well
• The same survey shows that over half of citizens engaged in
no political activity beyond the act of voting in that or the
previous two years
Public fell out of love with Coalition quickly: worst and
shortest “competence” honeymoon
Election
Governing Parties
Opposition Parties
1951
-1.3 (Con)
+3.6 (Lab)
1964
+1.9 (Lab)
+2.4 (Con)
1970
-0.5 (Con)
+2.6 (Lab)
1974
+0.4 (Lab)
+2.2 (Con)
1979
-1.6 (Con)
+1.2 (Lab)
1997
+2.9 (Lab)
-1.3 (Con)
2010
-2.7 (Con)
+3.5 (Lab)
Source: Jane Green And Will Jennings “Governing in the
Crisis: Public Opinion and Perceptions of Party Competence”,
2012
Problems of Coalition
• The difficulties of Lib Dem-Tory relationship
• Splits within Tories also key: metro liberal, super
dry right wingers, euro skeptics, county set,
maverick A listers
• Implementation focus is weak: "young self
absorbed boys, out of their depth“ as one senior
business representative put it
A way forward
• don't give up- but clarify the value in localism
• work from successful interventions in
localities
• build on the tide of history and comparison
rather than the trials of the present
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