Friday, September 30, 2005

Boyle and Calder on communities

The latest pamphlet in the Liberator series Passports to Liberty was on sale at the Lib Dem Blackpool Conference, if only on the last day. It contains the essays "Spin" by Adrian Sanders MP and "Cohesive Communities" by David Boyle and (hem, hem) Jonathan Calder.

"Cohesive Communities" was first written for the party's Federal Policy Committee and approved for publication as a policy development paper. But Cowley Street never showed any great enthusiasm for publishing it and it was eventually overtaken by preparations for the general election and the subsequent policy review.

But surely if FPC approves something it should be published at once?

What a sweet, innocent child you are! Run along and play.

Anyway, here are some extracts from the essay.

Recent research, particularly in the USA, has pinpointed cohesive communities as the key missing ingredient to a whole range of intractable policy issues that are undermining the ability of governments and their welfare systems to struggle on. The biggest and most expensive study in the history of criminology, carried out by the Harvard School of Public Health and which reported recently, found that by far the most important influence on local crime is the willingness of neighbours to act for each other’s benefit – and especially for the benefit of each other’s children.

***

Our Liberal Democrat embrace of liberty, equality and community echoes the Jacobin slogan Libert√©, Egalit√©, Fraternit√©. Perhaps the idea of ‘fraternity’ is irredeemably sexist, but it does convey a warmth and spontaneity that are often absent from ‘community’ as it has been understood by governments of either Labour or Conservative. Certainly, they are absent from the idea of community held by New Labour communitarian theorists.

***

The increasing dependence on professionals at neighbourhood level has led both to the exhaustion of public services and the increasing powerlessness of their clients. The truth is that the successful operation of teachers, doctors, police and social services depends on working as equal partners both with clients and with their neighbours – all three have a critical part to play in any successful regeneration. This basic truth, and the resources that it represents, have been increasingly forgotten as politicians puzzle over why their spending on public services are so ineffective, and as even the community development sector finds itself expecting and achieving very little from the local population.

Simon Titley reviews this latest number in the Passports to Liberty series in Liberator 305. He makes Adrian Sanders' essay sound an enjoyable rant, and writes of "Cohesive Communities" as follows:

Besides outlining the problem - basically "giantism" as the enemy of local communities - the authors suggest a number of practical steps to achieve their vision. This is precisely the sort of thinking needed to put flesh on the bones of the Liberal Democrats' Meeting the Challenge policy review...

Given the fundamental importance of cohesive communities to major public concerns such as the delivery of public services and fighting crime, however, this thinking deserves to become a cornerstone of Liberal Democrat policy.

To order a copy of Passports to Liberty 6 send a cheque for £3.50 (payable to Liberator Publications) to: Kiron Reid, 48 Abbeygate Apartments, Wavertree Gardens, High Street, Liverpool L15 8HB.

You can find details of my earlier Passports essay "Defending Families" here.

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