Ian Parker: 'New localism' has taken political root

Five years ago this week, I accepted an offer from a local government think-tank to run its new comms unit. With links to some of the UK policy community’s more radical thinkers and a reputation for saying the unsayable in the more Jurassic corners of council life, it seemed too good to pass up.

Defining and articulating what it first termed 'new localism', the New Local Government Network (NLGN) has brought a fresh concept to bear upon central/local relations in the UK. This has in turn impacted the policies of the three main political parties.

Initially we were fiercely protective of 'our' big idea, and reacted strongly when ministers and others began adapting new localism to suit their own arguments. Then it all started to get a bit King Canute-ish and life is too short for that.

Pushing the elected mayor's agenda has been a lively affair as well. Even now, I have to explain to journalists that this is no exercise in doing local councillors out of a job. It is instead aimed at bringing greater accountability and engagement to local democracy. A similar panic seems to have invaded debate over 'city regions' – the subject of my final bit of campaigning for NLGN.

But our position within the policy agenda is healthy. Last month,  'localism' was cited in a headline on the Today programme; Joan Bakewell got very animated in The Independent about a 'Greater Manchester city region'; and there is a clamour in the air for both elected mayors and city regions following recommendations made by fellow think-tank the IPPR last week.

Still, it is not yet a case of job done. Whoever said a week is a long time in politics never spent much time trying to modernise UK local government. But from now on someone else is going to have to take a lead on the campaigning.

Ian Parker is leaving the New Local Government Network this week to take up a position with LLM Communications

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