Any votes for localism?

Today, most of the nation is voting again. Every citizen over 18 gets the chance but relatively few will, they reckon.

The last weeks have seen more research figures relating to the drop in belief in politics. Yet the national challenges we currently face are huge – mostly emanating from the effects of a global downturn. By contrast the population probably has little interest in local matters.

Some cities are having referenda on whether to have local mayors.

I can’t help wondering whether or not the whole vote isn’t something of a referendum on localism?

Surely by one measure, localism is working when people care about who’s making local decisions – so they turn out to vote? With power increasingly pushed down to local levels (the premise of the localism act) then we should start to sense that more is at stake in the hands of such powerful local decision-makers. After all, they’re now holding a higher percentage of the budget, and they can do more of what they want with it as it’s less demarcated by central command…

By that argument, more people should show up at the polling booths today because they can see that it matters more than ever. No one expects them to.

Localism, like any ‘ism’, implies an overriding ideological belief. But local matters are too mundane for most people’s interest. Too undramatic to make it onto telly. It seems to be an ‘ism’ that fails to fire up the belly – no jihad, no messianic fervour or grass roots movement blazes its trail. Its main rhetorical purpose seems to be a bit like “Big Society”, to stand in contrast to its antithesis: “Big Government” and “centralism” (or even globalism?).

Isn’t it just pushing power into a vacuum? Will it run the risk, if not taken up, of being a bit like the Academies programme, where in the name of greater freedom and autonomy an increasing number of schools are given local control but are answerable only to the Secretary of State? Where in the name of localism the smaller state becomes more powerful and citizens become less powerful for want of not stepping up to the challenge of their increased, unrequested responsibilities?

There are few signs that anyone has interest in today’s elections. Neither the democratic process nor localism seemed to have many takers as I went out leafleting tonight. Britain’s’ Got Talent is popular though.

Just, not political talent.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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