Neighbours in Cambridge Grove met to have the inaugural meeting of their new residents’ association last Saturday, 16th June. They had invited all residents of the street to attend; they have a written constitution and they held open and fair elections for the committee positions. The Cambridge Grove Residents’ Association now joins a vibrant community of residents’ and tenants’ associations across the country.
This new residents’ association comes at a time when there is genuine political debate about how much power can be delegated down to a truly local level. The Government has said that it wants to allow for the establishment of localised parish councils in London. This would give more opportunities for local residents to influence their immediate neighbourhood on a mix of “liveability” issues. They could have their own devolved budgets and be charged with making decisions on such matters as street cleanliness, green spaces, community safety, traffic calming, play/youth facilities and physical improvements to a locality.
The thirty three London Councils set up a Commission on London Governance, along with the London Assembly, in response to this Government proposal. The Commission decided that there was no convincing case for parish councils in London with the view of the majority of members of the Commission being against the proposal. You can read a detailed report about it here.
Maybe the issue for us in the UK is cultural. In his 1998 polemic; Bring Home the Revolution, Jonathan Freedland describes how power is genuinely localised in the United States with communities making their own decisions on an eclectic range of issues. He argues that Americans accept that it is their right to have local power but that in Britain we still see power as something given to the people by state institutions.
Whatever the reality, it is my view, after nine years in local politics, that power can and should be devolved to a localised level whenever possible. While Councils will always have a strategic role to play, they are all too often slow to respond, distant and overly bureaucratic. Trust the People should be the motto of local government and that means empowering residents to make decisions for themselves.
Many of our fellow citizens feel disenfranchised from politics but remain concerned about the quality of life in their neighbourhoods. "All politics is local", as the late, great American Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O'Neil (see pic) once stated. The new Cambridge Grove Residents' Association signified civic regeneration for that small area. Civic life has long been a cornerstone of our democracy. This is something that should be encouraged by devolving some powers for people to use for the betterment of their local neighbourhood. In doing so we make our democracy stronger at all levels.