Saturday, 21 February 2009

How local is local?

This week the Conservative Party issued a paper on local democracy (you can see it here): sections 3 and 4 have some sound, sensible, and essential proposals that will help change the nature of 'local government.

But before I go further, and risk giving the impression of a sweeping endorsement of the paper, I am struck by the question "How local is local?" Today, some neighbours from across the road, who've been here a few years, and who like us, live just 7 minutes walk from the Farnham Pottery where we have our farm shop and coffee shop, came up for coffee and cake this afternoon for the very first time. After two years.

I'm sure many before me have asked this question, and possible answered it in many ways. I'm thinking about what non-physical barriers there are - such as circle of friends; living in a town that acts simply as a place for commuters to sleep; working so many hours that very little interaction takes place in the evenings nearby; driving everywhere meaning that no-one bumps into each other and chats on the way to or from somewhere; and, possibly, the irony that in this time of communication coming out of our ears, (where anyone is wants to be can publish everything they do on the internet for all to see), it can actually be fairly difficult to either tell everyone, or find out, what's going on locally.

Considering these items then drew me to think on whether the existing constructs of local government are expressions of natural communities, centred round historic centres - towns, markets etc. - or whether what we have now is more the consequences of decades of political posturing, leaving us with un-natural boroughs and districts etc.

Ask 10 people what local community means, and I think you'll get 10 different answers. But, ask 10 people if local community means their respective council, and I'm pretty certain that 9 or 10 out of 10 will say "No".

And so, while resonating with most of this paper from the Conservative Party, I hope that in the not too distant future, another paper will be released, that outlines the vision for revising local representation such that the natural geography, economy, and history of our communities, is counted as paramount.

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