Disclaimer: Articles on this website are written from the perspectives of various Localists, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Local Matters. Our contributors come from a wide array of varying political backgrounds, and we believe that cooperation across the political spectrum is essential.
A Localist is somebody who places the local community as the primary and most important political and economic entity. This ideological stance is therefore opposed to many notions of Modernity; a mindset which professes a linear view of historical progression, a notion of an ‘end of history’, individualism and universalism. In contrast, Localists see the world in plurality: there is no linear societal progression, nor is there any penultimate ideology or political structure. Rather than liberal universalism, Localism espouses a pluralist worldview, which recognises and defends the right to difference between all groups of people, whether that be on a local, regional, national or continental scale.
In order for the system to allow pluralism to be maintained, Localism advocates for heavily devolved political power to regions. With this, regions would hold the capability to largely decide their own laws, policies and priorities, thus the regions can decide their own political direction and form. This avoids the pitfall of over-centralisation, whereby laws are put in place nationwide to increase the wellbeing of Manchester, for example, but the same laws may have an adverse effect on the population of Devon. An extreme variation of over-centralisation is Jacobinism – an ideology born in the 19th century after the French Revolution, which pursued centralisation and cultural imperialism in order to unite the country, diminishing centuries-old regional cultures in the process. We can see similar effects of our system today, whereby the Anglo-centric United Kingdom has caused ruinous damage to the Celtic nations of the British Isles. Simultaneously, Englishness has been lost to Britishness, without even an English assembly to represent the English people. However, independence for these Celtic nations is not a desirable alternative. Due to our geography, shared history and very similar peoples, it makes little sense to draw strong divides between Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall or England, especially seeing as none of our nations, including England, could prosper so well alone as they do in cooperation with the other nations of the Isles. In contrast, regional devolution recognises the small but distinct differences between people across the country, authorising laws to be made on a basis more focused around those which they benefit, and placing all regions on an equal political footing.
In order to effectively make use of these regional powers, our political process must become truly democratic. First Past The Post only provides us with careerists from the parties with the largest funding, who are ‘representatives’ only in name. 650 cannot accurately speak for 67 million. Consequently, Localism proposes a two-pronged reformation: proportional representation and direct democracy, both of which can be seen effectively used by the electoral model of Switzerland.
Firstly, proportional representation, avoids democratic catastrophes which are not uncommon, such as the results of the 2015 General Election, in which the UK Independence Party received 12.6% of the national vote share, but was only awarded 1 seat (0.2%) in the House of Commons. In the same election, the Scottish National Party 4.7% of the national vote share, but 56 out of 650 seats (11.2%).1 How can we call this democratic? Instead, a proportionally-representative system not only allows for an elected body which accurately represents the people, but also provides a platform for non-mainstream, often single-issue parties to stand candidates in relevant areas. Hypothetically, this could be a Farmers’ Party, which stands candidates who advocate for policies beneficial to British farmers, for example.
This system operates most effectively in tandem with direct democracy, whereby citizens utilise referenda in order to vote in favour or against changes to their area, which can be by town, county, region or nation. Our only recent example of referenda in the UK is Brexit, which many would use as cause to claim that referendums instill division, and that we should instead trust our ‘representatives’ to make decisions on our behalf. However, the sway of Leave or Remain was largely consistent by area, with the most districts voting with a strong majority (66%≤). In contrast, despite 52% of the total population voting to leave the EU, only 25% of MPs voted in the same way.2 This is one of many examples which highlight the inability of MPs to accurately convey the wishes of the people which they claim to serve. Instead, direct democracy provides one voice for each voter, and offers the people a necessary opportunity to decide on the laws which affect them directly. For example, if a railway were to be constructed between two towns, the people of those towns, and those which surround the planned railway, would be eligible to vote Yes or No for the potential new trainline. A fisherman in Cornwall has no right to decide on the transport industry of Yorkshire, just as those living in Sheffield do not have the right to direct the policy of Launceston. These people do, however, all possess the right to decide on what directly impacts them and their community.
Through these systemic changes, we open the doors to approach the problems which are currently neglected. Environmentalism, for example, is in crisis, yet all our government can do is push minor, ‘feel-good’ reforms rather than combat the problem effectively. This process would include a range of changes; from rewilding and vital crop rotation, to renewable energy sources and radical consumption habit alterations – there are many policies which must be enacted before our shortsightedness of economic growth for growth’s sake creates irreversible damage to our planet. Iceland and Norway are great examples of European countries who rely almost completely on renewable energy (100% and 98.5%, respectively).3 Rewilding has already begun in some areas of the UK, such as the reintroduction of wild bison to Kent,4 which allows nature to take its place naturally in order to regenerate flora and fauna across the country. The UK only holds enough arable land to sustain just under 54 million people, which is a calculation without accounting for imperfect farming conditions, and assuming that all arable land is used constantly, which is ecologically detrimental.5 6 Socially, ecologically and economically, the UK is overpopulated. Small, local businesses are falling to ruin as the senior employees of massive corporations raise their own wages. Our consumption habits ignore seasonal produce, and have succumbed to the American proliferation of fast food. These problems must be addressed with intellectual honesty forthwith.
The influence of the United States affects far more than what we eat. Our entertainment, our clothes and even our politics can be adopted from across the Pacific. The media hysteria and anti-Trump protests gathered far more attention in the UK the near-revolution of the French Gilet Jaunes movement. Our high streets are rapidly becoming symmetrical to those of Brooklyn or San Francisco, littered with global corporations which dominate our markets and suffocate nearby independent businesses offering a similar service. Americanisation is a symptom of globalisation: the process process of integrating markets, peoples, governments and economies internationally, commonly manifested as cheap foreign labour markets supplying first-world countries. Globalism is why our shelves are filled with Chinese plastic and south Asian fast-fashion, lockling the supplying countries in a status of poverty, in which they are paid an extremely minor wage to work long hours,7 which is possible due to the lower standards of workforce care in these countries. This systemic neglect of employees is abused by multinational corporations who would oppose the improvement of these countries, such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, because it would hurt their gross profit margins. Globalism is also why industry in the UK is few and far between, with much of it now overseas in countries which provide a cheaper alternative, stripping areas like Yorkshire and Durham of its vital industrial hubs. Instead, industry must be as close to home as possible. In a perfect world, all products would be grown, produced and sold within the same county, with exception for products which must be imported, such as oranges.
Ultimately, Localists believe in a democratic reinvigoration of England with a two-fold benefit: firstly, the will of the people will be accurately represented and enshrined in law as a direct result of a truly democratic system. Additionally, the participation of the individual will begin to fulfil their sense of community, and by contributing to an entity larger than themselves, we will see feelings of belonging and fraternity reignited within the English regions. The success of businesses will be defined by their wealth, rather than by their annual turnover. Furthermore, Localist policies regarding consumerism, population and ecology, in conjunction with the improved critical thinking of politicians, will bring forth a greener nation, greatly improving our environmental contribution to the world in addition to setting an example for others to follow.
This has been a brief summary of Localist theory. For a more detailed text on Localism, please consider picking up a copy of our new book – Localism: Manifesto for a Twenty-First Century England.
1. House of Commons Library. ‘General Election 2019: Full Results and Analysis’ (2020). https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8749.
2. Chris Stafford. ‘Brexit: How MPs Struggled to Reflect Their Voters’ (2020). https://www.psa.ac.uk/psa/news/brexit-how-mps-struggled-reflect-their-voters.
3. Earthbound Report. ‘Countries with 100% Renewable Energy’ (2012). https://earthbound.report/2012/07/09/countries-with-100-renewable-energy.
4. BBC News, European bison to be introduced into Kent woodland (2020) https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-53349929.
5. Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs. ‘Farming Statistics – Land Use, Livestock Populations and Agricultural Workforce at 1 June 2020 – England’ (2020). https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/928397/structure-landuse-june20-eng-22oct20.pdf.
6. Bristol Food Policy Council. ‘Who Feeds Bristol?’ (2011). http://bristolfoodpolicycouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Who-feeds-Bristol-case-studies.pdf.
7 WageIndicator Foundation. ‘Minimum Wage – Textile’ (2021). https://wageindicator.org/salary/minimum-wage/bangladesh/38599-textile.