How we can reignite some civic pride

People voted out so decisions can be taken in the UK
People voted out so decisions can be taken in the UK
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HAYES IN THE HOUSE: By MP John Hayes

Polls​ ​conducted​ ​on​ ​June​ ​23rd,​ ​the​ ​British​ ​people​ ​voted​ ​to​ ​leave​ ​the​ ​European​ ​Union,​ ​reveal​ ​that​ ​the main​ ​reason​ ​people​ ​opted​ ​for​ ​Brexit​ ​was​ ​“the​ ​principle​ ​that​ ​decisions​ ​about​ ​the​ ​UK​ ​should​ ​be​ ​taken in​ ​the​ ​UK”.

Those​ ​who​ ​claim​ ​that​ ​voters​ ​were​ ​misled,​ ​confused​ ​or​ ​voting​ ​solely​ ​about​ ​immigration,​ ​don’t understand​ ​that​ ​the​ ​British​ ​people​ ​grasped​ ​what​ ​many​ ​of​ ​the​ ​political​ ​class​ ​wouldn’t​ ​–​ ​that​ ​faceless bureaucratic​ ​EU​ ​institutions​ ​feel​ ​remote​ ​from​ ​our​ ​needs,​ ​hopes​ ​and​ ​fears.

People​ ​want​ ​power​ ​to​ ​be​ ​exercised​ ​close​ ​to​ ​its​ ​effect​ ​and​ ​now,​ ​as​ ​we​ ​take​ ​back​ ​of​ ​sovereignty​ ​from the​ ​supranational​ ​EU​ ​to​ ​Westminster,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​time​ ​to​ ​think​ ​about​ ​what​ ​more​ ​could​ ​be​ ​done​ ​at​ ​a​ ​local level.

Public​ ​policy​ ​rarely​ ​reflects​ ​the​ ​truism​ ​that​ ​‘all​ ​politics​ ​is​ ​local’.​ ​Unsurprisingly​ ​people​ ​usually​ ​have​ ​a better​ ​idea​ ​of​ ​how​ ​to​ ​improve​ ​things​ ​in​ ​their​ ​locality;​ ​it​ ​is​ ​in​ ​the​ ​nexus​ ​of​ ​local,​ ​knowledge​ ​and resource​ ​that​ ​the​ ​dynamism​ ​of​ ​concerted​ ​action​ ​can​ ​be​ ​forged.

No​ ​one​ ​understood​ ​this​ ​better​ ​than​ ​the​ ​great​ ​reformer​ ​Joseph​ ​Chamberlain​ ​who​ ​saw​ ​that community​ ​and​ ​civic​ ​pride​ ​are​ ​essential​ ​to​ ​effective​ ​political​ ​action.​ ​After​ ​becoming​ ​Lord​ ​Mayor​ ​of Birmingham​ ​in​ ​1873,​ ​he​ ​initiated​ ​sweeping​ ​reforms,​ ​pioneering​ ​slum-clearance​ ​and​ ​the​ ​construction of​ ​public​ ​buildings.​ ​Chamberlain​ ​believed​ ​that​ ​public​ ​services​ ​should​ ​be​ ​owned​ ​and​ ​run​ ​by​ ​local authorities,​ ​and​ ​so​ ​lobbied​ ​Westminster​ ​to​ ​ensure​ ​he​ ​had​ ​the​ ​necessary​ ​powers​ ​to​ ​clean-up​ ​his​ ​city.

This​ ​civil​ ​engagement​ ​was​ ​the​ ​wellspring​ ​of​ ​social​ ​reform​ ​from​ ​Chamberlain’s​ ​time​ ​through​ ​to​ ​the inter-war​ ​period.​ ​Sadly,​ ​after​ ​1945​ ​public​ ​policy​ ​moved​ ​decisively​ ​against​ ​this​ ​vision​ ​of​ ​local​ ​action with​ ​the​ ​post-war​ ​belief​ ​that​ ​‘the​ ​gentleman​ ​in​ ​Whitehall​ ​knows​ ​best’,​ ​for​ ​too​ ​long,​ ​central government​ ​hoarded​ ​and​ ​concentrated​ ​power.

This​ ​approach​ ​simply​ ​doesn’t​ ​work,​ ​its​ ​ultimate​ ​outcome​ ​is​ ​less​ ​democratic,​ ​more​ ​bureaucratic policy,​ ​leaving​ ​little​ ​room​ ​for​ ​adaptation​ ​to​ ​reflect​ ​local​ ​circumstances​ ​or​ ​innovation​ ​to​ ​deliver services​ ​more​ ​effectively​ ​and​ ​at​ ​lower​ ​cost.

This​ ​Government​ ​has​ ​already​ ​done​ ​much​ ​to​ ​decentralise​ ​power,​ ​freeing​ ​Local​ ​Authorities​ ​to​ ​act​ ​when and​ ​where​ ​they​ ​think​ ​it​ ​necessary,​ ​and​ ​giving​ ​councils​ ​greater​ ​powers​ ​to​ ​work​ ​together​ ​-along​ ​with other​ ​bodies​ ​and​ ​organisations-​ ​to​ ​deliver​ ​services​ ​and​ ​formulate​ ​innovative​ ​solutions​ ​to​ ​problems.

By​ ​taking​ ​this​ ​dynamic​ ​localism​ ​further​ ​we​ ​can​ ​infuse​ ​new​ ​life​ ​and​ ​energy​ ​into​ ​local​ ​Government.​ ​As we​ ​exit​ ​the​ ​European​ ​Union​ ​and​ ​reassert​ ​our​ ​national​ ​sovereignty,​ ​it​ ​is​ ​also​ ​time​ ​to​ ​re-establish distinctive​ ​local​ ​democracy​ ​as​ ​well.​ ​Inspired​ ​by​ ​Chamberlain’s​ ​vision​ ​we​ ​can​ ​reignite​ ​civic​ ​pride.