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From New Labour to the Big Society
Author: Hugh Atkinson

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.

Hugh Atkinson

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
An agenda for change?
Hugh Atkinson

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
Hugh Atkinson

5 Opening up local democracy beyond the formal realm Introduction I noted in Chapter 4 how the Labour government after 1997 tried to stimulate formal local democracy by various initiatives to boost electoral turnout. But it was, as Wilson notes, ‘particularly keen to emphasise innovation in participatory democracy’ (Wilson, 1999: 248). Attempts to encourage local public participation are by no means new. They enjoyed prominence on the public policy agenda in the 1960s with such initiatives as the Skeffington Report and the establishment of community development

in Local democracy, civic engagement and community
Abstract only
Hugh Atkinson

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
Abstract only
Hugh Atkinson

Conclusion The arrival of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government in 1979 marked a period of deep uncertainty and turbulence in the world of local government. A centralising agenda of financial restrictions, policy directives and privatisation served to undermine the rationale of local democracy itself. Indeed, writing in 1982, Alexander argued that ‘unless conscious efforts are made to revive it, the end of local government may be in sight’ (Alexander, 1982: 2). It has been argued elsewhere that despite the ‘mighty onslaught from the centre’ local

in Local democracy, civic engagement and community
Abstract only
Colin Copus

looks at how the new mayoral office can be part of a process of reconnecting local government to local communities and bringing new meaning and salience to local democracy, and at whether mayors can assist in transforming the nature of local politics. The book is deliberately written from the English experience; the comparative material included is there to help us understand the English approach to directly elected political leaders, how that approach may develop over time, and how local politics and government could be reconfigured. While the book is based on the

in Leading the localities
Cameron Ross

rather than to each other’.51 Moreover, as discussed in chapter 8 the powers of the associations have significantly declined since the creation of Putin’s seven federal districts in 2000. Federalism, ethnicity and democracy Local democracy is surely a necessary pre-requisite for democratisation at the national level. And the provision of certain basic democratic procedures should, in a democracy, be universally available to all citizens across the federation regardless of their place of residence. Clearly democracy will be that much more difficult to create and

in Federalism and democratisation in Russia
Hugh Atkinson

1 The theoretical context Introduction I will look first at theoretical debates as to the meaning of local democracy and related concepts. We need to establish an understanding of such concepts before we are able to appreciate and comment on the welter of empirical evidence, debate and opinion that is available to us. Such an understanding will help set the scene for the analysis in subsequent chapters of the status and health of local democracy. In the nineteenth century, the well-known Prussian politician Otto Von Bismarck stated that politics is the art of

in Local democracy, civic engagement and community
Colin Copus

questions about the purpose of councillors and their roles and powers reflected the subordinate position of local government in the political system of the country, they have also reflected an ideological view of the role of local democracy and government. Both left and right of the political spectrum have, for different reasons and with different intended policy outcomes, arrived at the same conclusion about the position of local government and those that serve at that level as elected office-holders. That ideological collusion and its consequences will be explored in

in In defence of councillors