Campaigning in your local community

In the latest edition of ALDC’s Campaigner I previewed their next publication, written by myself and Shaun Roberts:

UPDATE: Campaigning In Your Community has now been published and is available for purchase.

In communities across the country there are improvements just waiting for a successful campaign to bring them about. Yet there are also people – far too many people in far too many places – who do not believe they and their neighbours have any power to change the streets around them, let alone the wider world.

Helping bring about those changes and helping people realise their own power should be at the core of local Liberal Democrat campaigning. It may be as simple as showing people that the graffiti that has blighted a local bridge for the last 20 years really can be removed or it may be as complicated as improving the quality of special educational needs services, but either way these are the sorts of changes that make politics a noble endeavour. Winning elections is fun – immense fun – but improving lives and communities is what makes it meaningful.

What makes for a distinctively Liberal Democrat approach is our belief not just in winning campaign successes for our communities but also helping people to secure more power and control over their own futures. Liberal Democrats don’t just want to fix problems for people; we want to help people fix their own problems.

This approach, frequently called ‘community politics’, was pioneered by the Liberal Party in the 1970s. Yet over the years the “how to win elections” part of the party’s publications about being active in your ward or community have got longer and longer, sometimes even therefore inadvertently given the impression that electioneering is all that matters – and that “campaigning” is just another word for “electioneering”.

The Liberal Democrats are a political party, not a glorified residents’ association, so part of what we are about most certainly is winning elections and the political power and opportunities which flow from the ballot box. But we are also about winning elections with a purpose and as part of a wider effort to improve our communities and empower our neighbours. Or in other words:

Community politics is not a technique. It is an ideology, a system of ideas for social transformation. For those ideas to become a reality there is a need for a strategy of political action. For that strategy to be successful it needs to develop effective techniques of political campaigning. Those techniques are a means to an end. If they become an end in themselves, the ideas they were designed to promote will have been lost. (The Theory & Practice of Community Politics by Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman (1980))

That is why I’ve been writing with Shaun Roberts a new publication for ALDC – “Campaigning in your local community” – which starts with the words in this article. We want to help put the community politics back into local campaigning. I hope you’ll get it, read it – and use it.

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