Saturday, September 06, 2008

Community leadership

I was talking to a local councillor (a Tory or a Lib-Dem, I think?) yesterday, and he was fulminating about the whole concept of community leadership.

He'd been at a seminar at which this role was being urged upon him, and he mentioned that he believed that it cast him almost in the role of a Nazi-style Gauleiter. In fairness to him (and I intend to be fair - I completely agreed with him) he was quick to point out that he wasn't doing a 'NuLab = Nazi' comparison, but I think his point was well made.

As he explained it to me:

"If I went on the doorsteps and said 'vote for me and I will lead you for the next few years', I would hand a safe council ward to my opponents very quickly. I can only ask to voters to pick me as a representative - not a leader. If that's what they ask me to do, that's what I should do."

I think that the Gauleiter comparison is very apt given local government's role in delivering (yuk!) central government priorities, and that this concept is a horrible symptom of the centralising approach to local government.

That the concept of community leadership is being imposed without comment from any of the main parties illustrates very clearly the leap in democratic literacy that is needed before we can take any meaningful programme of political decentralisation of the kind that all of the parties claim to want to promote seriously.

Like the phrase 'postcode lottery', the term 'community leadership' is a standing obstacle to any meaningful reform of local government.

And another thing - again, suggested by the term 'Gauleiter', that role of 'community leadership' seems very close to the outrageously-named community representatives that proliferate in Northern Ireland - often surrogates for paramilitary groups. Community leaders would be a better term for them, I think?

Leadership doesn't imply an election, after all....

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