The parochialism of politics - RSA

The parochialism of politics


  • Enterprise
  • Institutional reform

All politics is local. So we are told. Over and over again. Like most political clichés, this is highly flawed as a general rule.

Politics has become both too local and not local enough. It is not local enough when it comes to the politics of local representation. A political class has emerged- and not one based necessarily on any merit. The proposal to have a right of recall if an MP betrays the trust of his/her constituents could give some power back to local communities - if structured right. Candidate selection through primaries could help too in cutting through the group-think and political nepotism of party politics. One of the most impressive backbenchers in this Parliament is Dr Sarah Wollaston. Without an open primary she would probably not be an MP.

But in important respects politics is also too parochial. At a question and answer session with the soon to depart David Miliband organised by Progress last night, one theme consistently emerged. This is a politician (technically ex-politician actually) who has an ability to frame local issues and anxieties in a global context.

He was asked the normal sorts of questions you get at these events. What about localism? Well, look at the rise of the city: the top 40 cities produce 65 per cent of global wealth, and 85 per cent of its innovation despite only having 18 per cent of the world's housing units. How can a city like Birmingham succeed in this environment?

What of jobs? It's a global issue: Miliband had just been to a Kenyan refugee camp where the biggest concern after the refugee status was access to jobs. The same sorts of issues people in South Shields are anxious about.

Living costs? Well, the price of non-energy commodities has risen more in the last ten years than they fell in the previous hundred. Without understanding the rise of China, we can't understand our current predicament. That goes for Europe too. Geo-politics, the environment, global imbalances, poverty, innovation, issue after issue was presented in its global context.

Across the political spectrum, UKIP, Labour (especially Blue Labour), Conservative, there has been an inward turn. It's not that national politics shouldn't respond to its own citizens. It's that there is no way of understanding challenges let alone resolving them without a global perspective.

In fairness to David Cameron, he does place our economic challenge in a global context. But the language he uses is a superficial one of the 'global race'. It's also a race he seems rather too happy for the UK to run alone.

So David Miliband leaves for New York in a few weeks' time. He is one of the few of his generation who acts and thinks on a global scale. This week, his (ex-)colleague Liam Byrne publishes a book on China and our challenge as it prospers and grows and that is encouraging. On the Tory side, Rory Stewart demonstrates a grasp of geo-politics. There are a handful more but the global-local politician is a rare breed in politics right now. We are becoming smaller. And that will make local politics all the harder.

Anthony Painter is Director, Independent review of the Police Federation. His twitter feed is @anthonypainter.

Be the first to write a comment


Please login to post a comment or reply

Don't have an account? Click here to register.

Related articles

  • Political gridlock may be coming – and it may be no bad thing

    Anthony Painter

    Looking at the various election predications in terms of seats, it is entirely possible that no party will be able secure a decent majority - even in Coalition.

  • ‘The vow’ to Scotland: fudge, honour or renege?

    Anthony Painter

    This has been Scotland’s debate. It has been both inspiring but sometimes unnerving. Democratic passions awaken the best and some of the worst in us. We have seen it all: excitement, some intimidation, awakening. The groups that come out of this pretty badly are the political leaders: not just in Westminster but in Holyrood also.

  • Good morning, England

    Anthony Painter

    About three years ago I was asked by a senior politician ‘what was the biggest issue that politics would face?’ Sure, there's the economy but there is also the matter of the political expression of Englishness. The politician spontaneously guffawed (though I note that they have since changed their tune). Well, if Scotland votes for independence next week then get ready for the political rebirth of England. And very few in politics are ready for it.