David Cameron for the Tories weighed in first with a pledge to create and train 5000 strong "neighbourhood army" to help set up local community groups. The Conservatives are promising to fund the training of 5,000 full-time, professional community organisers over the course of the next Parliament. They say this is based on a movement in the United States which has trained generations of community organisers, including President Obama.
He told a central London audience (where else!) that:
"We want every adult to be a member of an active neighbourhood group, I know some people argue that there isn't the appetite for this sort of widespread community participation. I don't agree."But no new funding will be set aside for this still very much centrally controlled intervention into our local community instead it must be pilfered from the existing Futurebuilders project, a government programme which provides grants and loans to charities and other voluntary bodies to help them bid for and deliver public service contracts.
And as an Independent colleague Phil Andrews in a similar blog asks:
"In short, can Community Power be imposed by government initiative, or must it necessarily be organic and rise unassisted out of the efforts of the people themselves?
Would the organisers withdraw once local people had been trained, and would there be strings attached to the continued support of the "experts" as there always is under Labour?"
Meanwhile Tessa Jowell has responded for the government by announcing new plans to let parents run "Sure Start" centres and nurses and doctors to have more of a say in how the NHS is to be run, she said:
"The era of top-down government is over. Often, the best people to decide how local services should work are the local people using and running those services".
Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats whilst short on ideas themselves at least acknowledged the shallowness of the above half hearted attempts on local involvement with party's community’s spokeswoman Julia Goldsworthy. Saying
"The 'Big Society' is just patronising nonsense, particularly for the thousands of dedicated people who are working to make their communities better every day,"
And maybe she got the closest to the truth? You see David Cameron and the Tories need to realise that you can't implant community activity! For example what happens if the community doesn't want their "Trained Community Organiser"? And who chooses them? Or what happens if we find that 5000 organisers divided across a 65 million population doesn’t fit nicely into our settled community boundaries?
He also fails to understand that many communities already have good community groups and local organisers working in their neighbourhoods and that often it is the lack of "top down" "organised" interference which gives them local kudos needed for them to be respected in their areas.
Tessa Jowells intervention is equally uninspiring and seems to be driven by a need to placate the workers in our NHS and to engage parents more in Sure Start, both of course are very welcome gestures but are they really born from any real desire to give power back to local people?
And what about local government? What about the role of elected Councillors, who are year by year losing more and more authority (often guilty themselves of voting to hand over control of services to the unelected and unaccountable) and who are becoming more irrelevant to the needs of their local community?
Both the Tories and the Labour Party it would seem have no real agenda for devolving real power down to the people, they just want to spend existing funds to finance new projects which don't really engage people but simply tell them how they can become local advocates and more more locally aware.
It is for this reason that I believe more than ever that the only way to change local services and to create real difference within local neighbourhoods is by the communities deciding to do it for themselves. To identify their own leaders and to get them elected to office if necessary to shake up the system. Our neighbourhoods don't need government trained yes men and women imposed on them to activate their community. They just need to do what they are already doing and to start making decisions for themselves and taking on the big government agenda wherever it may based at Westminster or at the Town or County Hall.
We need more locally elected, non party, non controlled, non whipped, non conformist people from the community taking real decisions at a local level, not a pre election call from London telling us that they have all have big plans for us