“Community politics encompasses a restatement of the intellectual basis for liberalism, based on devolving power to communities, and a strategy for winning elections, particularly focusing on local government. It emerged as a concept in the late 1960s, and was officially adopted by the Liberal Party at its 1970 assembly” – Dictionary of Liberal Thought
Community Politics is still often talked about by Liberal Democrats, although by the 21st century references had become mostly of the ‘we should revive it’ sort. So what is this set of ideas that people still so often refer to as the way forward for the Liberal Democrats?
For a brief introduction to what Community Politics is and its history, see the full entry from the Dictionary of Liberal Thought.
One of the key publication on Community Politics is The Theory & Practice of Community Politics by Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman (1980). It starts off saying,
Community Politics is not a technique for the winning of local government elections.
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.
Community Politics is not local. It is universal. It is an approach to the collective making of decisions and the co-operative regulation of society that is relevant in any social group, from the family to the world.
Community Politics is not government. It is about people It is about their control of the exercise of power. It is about the distribution of power, the use of power, the dissemination of power and the control of power. It is an approach to the way in which decisions are made. It is not limited to the making of ‘political’ decisions within the structures of ‘government’.
Community Politics is not about elections. Elections are an essential ingredient in the process of community politics, a necessary and vital element in the conduct or social affairs. If elections and the holding of elected office become the sole or even the major part of our politics we will have become corrupted by the very system of government and administration that community politics sets out to challenge. The process will have displaced the motivating ideas. We will have lost our reason for fighting elections at all.
Community Politics in the 21st Century was published by the Liberal Democrat Local Government Association Group in 2010 whilst Community Politics Today was published by the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors (ALDC) in 2007.
For a brief introduction to the debate about how Community Politics compares to the Conservative Party’s Big Society see this post.
I have also written about the subject, such as in my chapter for Reinventing the State: Using Community Politics to build a liberal society and in The Politics of Windmills. I also wrote Putting community politics back into election campaigns for ALDC’s Community Politics Today.