New localism, old retrenchment: The Big Society, housing policy and the politics of welfare reform Tony Manzi, University of Westminster Keith Jacobs, University of Tasmania Overview Critical view of the politics of new localism Draws upon an historical frame to situate contemporary politics of UK housing Considers the wider implications of new localism for UK politics in general and social housing in particular We need to turn government completely on its head. The rule of this government should be this: if it unleashes community engagement, we should do it; if it crushes it, we shouldn’t (Cameron, 2010). Localism Stated aims (as expressed in 2010 Decentralisation and Localism Bill) • Model of social action, expressed through a culture of voluntarism and philanthropy. • Public service reform, based on cutting bureaucracy, • Planning powers for local neighbourhoods • Community empowerment where neighbourhoods are placed in charge of their own destiny (Cameron, 2010). Rationale • Welfare state captured by bureaucrats • Government interventions often accentuate social problems • Interpretation of public housing as one of failure • The size scope and role of government in Britain has reached a point where it is now inhibiting, not advancing the progressive aims of reducing poverty, fighting inequality, and increasing general well-being. Indeed there is a worrying paradox that because of its effect on personal and social responsibility, the recent growth of the state has promoted not social solidarity but selfishness and individualism…we must use the state to remake society (Cameron, 2009) The Reification of Community: Communitarianism and Localism • C18th - Edmund Burke -‘little platoons’ as defence of civil society. • Community-based approaches in the 1970s small scale rehabilitation strategies coincided with the re-emergence of housing association ‘movement’ • 1980s – decentralisation initiatives • New Labour and neighbourhood empowerment New Labour and ‘steering centralism’ • As the centre cannot know the conditions in every locality, it attempts to design policies for average conditions that, in reality, do not exist in any one location. In turn, local managers concerned with managing pressures misrepresent their capacities for fear they may be asked to do too much and overstate their achievements in order to appease those further up the hierarchical system (Stoker, 2004, p.220). Critique • As Harvey (1996) argues localism is not an innocent term; it can provide ideological foundations for both reactionary politics and ‘nativist’ sentiment. • Model of ‘consensus politics ignores the inherent conflicts and contestation of political discourse and can become a potentially undemocratic, unrepresentative and defensive militant particularism’ (Du Puis et al 2005). Coalition Government and Public Service Reform • The White Paper…will put in place principles that will signal the decisive end of the oldfashioned, top-down, take-what you’re given model of public services…the grip of state control will be released and power will be placed in people’s hands. Professionals will see their discretion restored. There will be more freedom, more choice and more local control (Cameron, 2011). The Big Society - in practice? • At best, it is essentially empty, nothing more than an encouragement to citizens to do ‘good deeds’ in the community; nothing particularly objectionable but equally lacking in substance and destined to have a minimal impact on public policy. At worst, it is dangerous, a genuine belief that charities and volunteers, rather than the state, can and should provide numerous core public services (Kisby, 2010). Conclusions • Policies to substantially reduce localism little more than camouflage to justify cuts in government welfare spending • Narrative to promote localism rests on an ideology hostile to collective provision and wealth redistribution • Impact of current policies will undermine achievements of the past.