Thursday, 18 October 2012

Back to the shires

One of my father’s favourite TV programmes was Dad’s Army. As many older people know it was a very popular BBC comedy series about a World War II Home Guard unit and it ran from 1968 to 1977. Essentially character-driven, it was blessed with a good cast and script. At least I found it easy enough to watch during Dad's declining years, to sit with him and watch a few episodes over a couple of bottles of beer and a plate of mussels.

What always struck me about Dad’s Army was the obvious appeal of its portrayal of a very traditional local community. It’s set in a village, much of it in the church hall and the main characters are the bank manager, hid head clerk, the butcher, grocer, undertaker, vicar and even the local spiv.

We seem to enjoy local settings for our fictional entertainment. Local almost seems to be a necessary feature of popular drama and situation comedy. TV soap operas are very local, Coronation Street and Eastenders both being centred on the local pub. We like fictional small communities and TV folk know it so very well.

Why we are so fond of them, I’m not sure, because they aren’t often encountered in real life, especially at the political level. Maybe a taste for the cosmopolitan life is not as widespread or as deep as our political narratives suggest. Although the word community is bandied about ad nauseam, nobody really means it.

Yet local UK politics has had most of the juice sucked out of it. Maybe commonplace observation suggests we could usefully rediscover local politics if we wish to build something with more popular political engagement. Because surely - popular engagement is definitely not a feature of modern political life.

Education, planning, policing, the judiciary, healthcare and even taxation could be much more local, based on shires and metropolitan areas.

Many of our taxes could be raised locally and spent locally. LVT would be ideal for that as we already have council tax and business rates. Yet our local freedoms have mostly been stolen by Westminster which is busily giving them away to the EU and UN.

It's as well not to be naive about the appeal of government at a more local level. We may well end up with just as much indifference, fraud, posturing and silliness as now. But in such cases it would be much easier for people to move away to somewhere better governed such as the next county.

To a very limited extent this is the case now, but rigged house prices probably stifle the tendency to move on. Only a minority are able to afford the move to the catchment area of good schools for example. Local politics many not be the answer to our political decline, but we do show a marked affection for local life.

Even though the affection is for fictitious communities, it surely tells us something of interest about ourselves and our social preferences. Maybe our political preferences too.

Note - two blogs doing a fine job of promoting and explaining the political benefits of strengthening local politics are:- (the Harrogate Agenda)


James Higham said...

And in its place the govt/EU has tried to bring in things like citizen's juries, citizen's law enforcement and so on. Faux community.

Demetrius said...

When I were a lad, Clackmannan, Rutland, Radnor and Fermanagh all had more authority and capability of making decisions than does the UK government or any of the devolved governments at present.

Anonymous said...

The Watch Committee, the interlocking web of corruption that was the Magistrates, the Planning Committee, the Police Authority, the Conservative (or Labour) Clubs and the local builders. No bloody thanks. But as you suggest the replacement has merely swapped one evil for another. Probably always will, the problem is to find some optimal 'saddle point'.

Humans are built to lie, cheat, present biassed evidence and twisted arguments - it is innate. Only in advantageous circumstances does truth emerge. Unless we build administrative systems that counter our innate tendencies and force truth and fact to the fore we will always have the current mess. Like a thorough scrub with carbolic soap and cold water, it might be good for you but you would not like it.

I have to confess I have looked at LVT and I don't understand it - or at least I can't see how it will actually help without a big change in planning restrictions - in which case you probably don't need LVT. But it begs the question - what is the value-added of each tax - what do I get for my money?

WitteringsfromWitney said...

Most kind of you AKH for the mention.

Sam Vega said...

I tend to agree with Roger on this one. Local bullies and idiots are every bit as dangerous as national ones, and it is more difficult to gain publicity for your plight if you are relying on the local newspaper. It is structure, not scale, that seems to be the problem.

A K Haart said...

James - faux community indeed.

Demetrius - yet it was allowed to slip away. Difficult to believe sometimes.

Roger and Sam - I share your doubts, but also tend to think that big is not beautiful as far as government goes.

With modern web communications it may well be that transparency is easier and more effective on a local scale. Anyone can set up local blogs. Worth looking at in my view and if nothing else it's a stick to rattle a cage - ours.

Witterings - no problem, I'm interested.

banned said...

Dads Army was a weekly staple of my childhood/youth so I suppose I qualify as an 'older people'.

About the only level of administration to which power has not been devolved is the Parish Council, the one where people with local expertise might seek to improve things while continuing to live in the real world and not be party political.

A K Haart said...

banned - we don't hear much about parish councils. They seem to run on a shoestring budget.