A Case for Localism | Localism Matters

‘Localism’ is becoming an increasingly popular term, particularly used by political dissidents who do not fit into mainstream politics (nowadays, who does, besides bureaucrats, careerists and corporatists?). Russell Brand is one figure who has been promoting Localism to his audience;  he said “communities must be allowed to run themselves, control their own resources, act democratically. […] Without significant change toward true democracy, the consequences are becoming quite clear.” And for those who are not fans of Russell Brand, it is important to note that Localism is cross-spectrum, and does not conform to the left-right dichotomy. In promoting Localism, Russell stands beside figures such as renowned philosopher Sir Roger Scruton, Maurice Glasman, the founder of Blue Labour, and Sir John Hayes MP.

Fundamentally, Localism is a system which seeks to sustain the identities of regional peoples in plurality, instituting the protection of our local, national and international differences. Through radical devolution and true democracy, the electorate of the British Isles would finally have a voice. The changes, which will be analysed below, amalgamate to present a system which brings power from the bottom-up, as opposed to the all-too-familiar top-down model, which we currently suffer beneath. Therefore, a Localist system is inherently decentralised, and remarkably reduces the impact of corporations, banks, and ultimately of economics overall, on the voice of the people. Consequently, of course, much of Localism exists outside of the neoliberal discourse, because politicians and oligarchs would never willingly surrender their control, which is why it must be first discussed, promoted and adopted by dissidents who still hold critical thought and societal wellbeing as priorities over endless growth and centralised authority. The primary opposition of Localism is globalisation, both in a political and an economic sense, due to the parasitic and incestuous relationship between corporations and politicians.

The cardinal focus of Localism is democracy, which for the English people, is an age-old tradition. England, as an heir of Germanic political culture, has an extensive democratic tradition which is not tied to our liberal parliamentary system. The þing (pronounced ‘thing’, meaning ‘assembly’) was a democratic assembly common to all pre-Christian Germanic societies. This evolved into the Anglo-Saxon folkmoot (meaning ‘folk meeting’) in England. Even in the age of absolute monarchy, communities in towns and villages were driven and organised locally by communitarian sentiment. However, modern bureaucracy and Jacobin centralisation has reduced the embodiment of this spirit to a frail skeleton of town and county councils, with little accuracy of the wants of the people, and even less power to enact them. Those in power, within and above these councils, are almost wholly unaccountable. Voters grant “representatives” a four-year licence to act as a tyrant, and a fifth year to reconcile the public with virtue signalling and promises, only to repeat the cycle again. No representative can accurately convey the wishes of their entire constituency, and no solution for one area necessarily fits another. Instead, a Localist system would afford decision-making to the local people, whom the decisions affect most. These decisions would be authorised to differ per locality through a system of subsidiarity, which grants policy-making autonomy exclusively to the regions which the decision concerns, within the confines of national policy. In addition, any council members who direct policy on behalf of their community would be subject to be recalled subject to popular electorate decision, thus maintaining accountability throughout their service, ensuring that accurate portrayal of the peoples’ wishes is upheld.

Despite our democratic heritage, we cannot retvrn to folk meetings beneath a monarchy. Time passes, needs and wants change, and any proposal to take the country backward in time is desperate, fruitless and ideologically baseless. Instead, we must look forward, bringing pre-modern values into a post-modern future. Community spirit, much like we hear of during the world wars, shone its light once again during the lockdowns of 2020, when people shopped locally, cared for each other, and selflessly helped those in need. 

Increasingly, people are beginning to rediscover the value of locality, and a common sense of anti-globalisation is burgeoning. Yet, simultaneously, almost as a retort, we saw Westminster put millions of small businesses at risk while international conglomerates generated even higher profits. Restrictions were repeatedly imposed while politicians continued to attend parties. MPs who earlier applauded the NHS, later threatened 100,000 NHS staff with unemployment if they made an individual choice against vaccinating themselves. The past two years have seen the introduction of some of the most authoritarian measures of many lifetimes, and we voted for none of them.

Climactically, the “opposition” party supported all of these actions. Large crowds of people have demanded change for generations, but power will never be surrendered willingly by the neoliberal, corporate-funded bureaucrats. Localism is the banner of which agitators and modern heretics will gather under. If there was ever a time to dissent, organise and revolt, that time is now.

What would a Localist system look like in practice?

Although there are no examples of a completely Localist system, past or present, there are a number of examples of places which include Localist practises.

For a model of democracy which shares the most similarities with a Localist model, we can look to modern Switzerland. The makeup of this allocates regions of the country into 26 cantons, which include several communities each. The cantons have devolved power over their own parliament, court and police. Each canton sends delegates, the amount of which are relative to the population of the canton and elected via proportional representation, to sit on the national council, which manages overarching issues such as international relations and the economy.

Switzerland is also one of few countries which uses direct democracy – that is, a system which enables voters to vote directly on laws and the constitution, without a representative body (such as an MP) doing so on their behalf. Additionally, the Swiss system allows for community, cantonal and national referenda to be held four times per year. National referendums in Switzerland are triggered by a petition of 50,000 signatures of eligible voters within 100 days. To translate this to a population size of the United Kingdom, a referendum would require approximately 414,800 signatures in the same time restriction. The modern Swiss system reflects many of the ideals of a Localist system – multi-tiered devolution, direct democracy, proportional representation and peoples’ referenda.

Back in England, we also have great examples of Localism in action, albeit lesser known. In May 2015, in Frome, a small town in Somerset, party representatives from Lib Dems, Conservatives and UKIP were flushed out, all to be replaced by 17 Independent for Frome councillors, who now hold every seat on the council. As Frome local John Harris put it, “there are two key elements to this very English revolt: a quest to revive the often moribund town and parish authorities long squashed by county, borough and district councils, and give them a new energy and purpose; and in the places where party politics has dominated even this lowly tier of government, the shoving aside of the big parties in pursuit of new ways of doing things”. This case study serves as a brilliant example of communitarian spirit driving the local people to push aside party representatives who are obedient to whips, and ultimately to their corporate sponsors. Since gaining a majority of town council seats in May 2011, the local credit union has been significantly boosted, green spaces have flourished, the council is involved in a new renewable energy cooperative, and a public “share shop” has been set up, where locals can borrow tools, toys and other items. There are even crowds at council meetings, because the local community is significantly more engaged. Other small towns, such as Arlesey and Buckfastleigh and Alderley Edge have followed suit since, and they are not the only ones. Many people believe that this is the beginning of a revolutionary wave, destined to take power away from political parties and return them to the hands of the people.

What does the future look like?

On the smallest scale, where Localism establishes its foundations, the democratic influence of community-focused people is making a real difference. The successes of independent-run towns are only the beginning, and since inspiring others across England to take control of their own community, radical changes can be expected to snowball throughout the country, all beginning in our quaint town and parish councils. Party representatives, and intrinsically, the corporations who influence their policies, are being pushed out of the seats which they once believed were untouchable. As this movement continues to expand, the population of each town will gain a voice, amplifying each other as a blaring call to resist our centralised, globalised system. While national-scale Localism may be partially unpredictable, the same functions on a smaller scale, such as Frome, are undoubtedly a step forward for the voice of the people, and the moulding of our own futures. This movement is on the up, already with dozens of local parties across the UK which proclaim themselves as a collective of independents acting solely in the interests of their own community. The natural step afterward would be Localism on a greater scale, and with regional parties such as the Yorkshire Party, Mebyon Kernow, North East Party, Wessex Regionalists and more, this vision is becoming increasingly realised across the country.

Conclusively, nothing is guaranteed. The system may continue to become ever-more globalised, centralised and undemocratic. The people of the British Isles may fall by the wayside, ignored and one day forgotten, their regional identities nothing more than whimsical memories, existing only as consumers who vote in inconsequential elections, ruled by neoliberal careerists, who themselves are ruled by massive corporations. However, history shows us that the pendulum swings both ways in every society that has ever existed. Like an old English grandfather clock,

the pendulum is beginning to swing in the opposite direction, against the modern status quo. As protests increase, civil disobedience surges, and communities are taking their power back from the ruling class, it is vital, for anyone who believes in a government by the people to consolidate force behind the movement of the pendulum until we can be at ease in a structure which puts the power in the hands of our communities.

To those interested in Localist ideas, I must recommend thelocalists.org for their reading list, articles, and manifesto.

Photo Credit.

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