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From New Labour to the Big Society

There is a widespread view that local democracy in Britain is in deep trouble and that people face a crisis of civic engagement and political participation. This book counterweighs the many negative accounts that seek to dominate the political discourse with talks on political apathy and selfish individualism. It commences with an examination of theoretical debates as to the meaning of local democracy and related concepts. The book looks at the policy agenda around local democracy in the context of the developing nature of central/local relations since 1979. It considers the available evidence on level of political participation and civic engagement by looking at eight themes. These include the state of formal politics, forms of civic engagement, community identity and the emerging world of the internet/world wide web. The book also looks at nine key aspects of the reform of local democracy over the last fifteen years, including local democracy and the New Labour reform agenda; the constitutional position of local government; and double devolution. It focuses on the so-called 'crisis of formal democracy' at the local level. The book ascertains the recent developments beyond the realm of elections, political parties and formal political institutions. It then concentrates on local services and policy attempts to widen public participation in the shaping and delivery of such services. Finally, the book discusses the concept of sustainability and regeneration strategies to build sustainable communities, both physical and social.

Debates and evidence

2 Civic engagement and political participation: debates and evidence Introduction There is a widespread view that democracy at the local level in Britain is in crisis with levels of political participation at an all-time low. Indeed, there is an increasing ‘anti-politics’ narrative that posits a public alienated from the political class. The public uproar in 2009 over the ‘excessive’ allowances claimed by some members of parliament (MPs) has fed into this. However, the central argument of this chapter, and indeed of the book itself, is that a deeper and more

in Local democracy, civic engagement and community

6 Local services, community and civic engagement Introduction In Chapter 6 the focus is on local services and their impact on strengthening civic engagement and local communities. First, there will be a focus on central government policy. There will be an analysis of some initiatives of the last Labour government as well as an initial assessment of the emerging policy agenda of the current Conservative/ Liberal Democrat coalition. Local public service reform will also be looked at in the context of the role of markets and the increasing emphasis on the choice

in Local democracy, civic engagement and community
An agenda for change?

3 The challenge of local democracy, civic engagement and community: an agenda for change? Introduction In the early period of the newly elected Labour government after 1997 the apparent conciliatory tone towards local government was in sharp contrast to the conflicted nature of central/local relations during the Thatcher and Major years. Tighter financial restrictions, rate capping, cuts in central government financial support, increased privatisation of local authority services and loss of policy autonomy all gave the clear impression of a beleaguered local

in Local democracy, civic engagement and community

4 Civic engagement and social justice Introduction Public policy in a variety of countries, Ireland included, has recognised the value of some level of deeper citizen participation in democratic and civic life. At the same time, civil society organisations have increasingly asserted the importance of their participation in policy-­making processes. It was in this context that the Irish government clearly stated that ‘There is a need to create a more participatory democracy where active citizenship is fostered’ defining participation ‘as an exchange between

in Challenging times, challenging administration

6 Civic engagement and community participation Introduction This chapter examines the level of active citizenship in prison and, similar to the last chapter, is based on the interviews with 50 prisoners. Recognising that citizenship encompasses more than just rights and responsibilities but is intertwined with participation, it considers their activities prior to imprisonment, the opportunities for participative citizenship behind bars and outlines some reasons for involvement in what are characterised as citizenship activities inside. The chapter concludes by

in Citizen convicts
Abstract only

Introduction This is a book about local democracy, about community and civic engagement in Britain. It was conceived as a counterweight to the many negative accounts that seek to dominate our political discourse with their talk of political apathy and selfish individualism. Barack Obama made the point effectively in the American context long before his successful bid for the Presidency. In an interview given to the Chicago Reader newspaper on 8 December 1995 he set out his now wellrehearsed argument about the need for change in the way the USA does its politics

in Local democracy, civic engagement and community

decisions essentially political is ‘their collective character, affecting and committing those who belong to the group’ (Hague and Harrop, 1987: 3). Healy et al. argue that ‘A redefinition of politics and the role of elected representatives’ is necessary if we are to enhance political and civic engagement (Healey et al., 2005: 42). Indeed this is most certainly true. Whilst we need to acknowledge the importance of formal political institutions and political parties, we need to construct a way of doing politics that is about more than petty squabbles, sound bites and

in Local democracy, civic engagement and community

part of a strategy to broaden civic engagement and to take forward the so-called ‘empowerment agenda’. It reflected New Labour concerns about the malaise afflicting (formal) representative democracy, an issue I discussed in Chapter 4 (Wilson, 1999: 247). This chapter looks at recent democratic developments beyond the formal Local democracy beyond the formal realm 97 realm of elections, political parties and local political institutions. First, there will be an analysis of three local initiatives beyond the ballot, namely citizens’ panels, local referenda and

in Local democracy, civic engagement and community

4 Local democracy at the formal level Introduction This chapter will focus on the so-called ‘crisis of formal democracy’ at the local level. First, the decline of political parties in terms of membership, activism, resources and public regard will be considered. The factors in this decline will be analysed, together with possible solutions for a reinvigorated local party politics and the key role this might play in boosting civic engagement and democracy. Second, attention will be given to the perceived problem of declining electoral turnout at the local level

in Local democracy, civic engagement and community