Community politics is an approach that is dear to the hearts of Liberal Democrats. This is because it is both effective and an ideologically sound approach. The core idea is that local activists find an issue, for example the existence of a litter problem in a park. They fix this, which would fall within the remit of the local authority, and publicise this through a Focus newsletter. This then applies pressure on the local authority to be more effective and can allow, ultimately, for the removal of the governing party in the local authority if they do not react.

Community politics began as a bottom up strategy, however as its effctiveness became clear its operation became more centralised. Rather than being inspired by local activists able candidates could be trained centrally in community politics and then be supported in a particular seat. Funds could be allocated centrally to approved community politicans who could be supported by the central organisation. Appropriate messages from the central party could be mixed with locally sourced material.

This top down community politics where we seek out ‘good candidates’ and encourage them to stand in winnable constituencies may not be the best way to allocate resources. The Lib Dems can win in any area, and lose in any area. Far more than other parties we are dependent on the strength of our candidates and the local organisation. Rather than move a strong candidate from a weak area we may be better off allocating resources to weak areas where we have good people who cannot move.

The biggest issue that is faced in areas with no councillors paying precept (a councillor allowance tax) is the cost of paying for Focus. If we are to look to make it easy for people to become active we need to have Riso style printers available round the country for areas where there are no councillors. These printers should offer enough print capacity to allow at least one ward to be addressed professionally in any local authority. In the long run the funding should come from a precept from those seats that are won. The party should leave the content to local activists depending on what is effective in their own area. There would be an up front cost but this is a priority if the party is to move forward and could be self funding.

This approach could be termed ‘radical democracy’ or democracy from the root up. It involves a metaphorical watering of the ground and seeing what activity results. If we make it easy for people to become active we are likely to see a better result than if we simply implement a top down version of community politics.

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