Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Our Time has Come - the Empowered Community is here to stay!

I've been intending to blog for over a week following the successful series of meetings organised by Liberal Democrat PPC and councillor Andrew Dakers to discuss parliamentary reform and the implications of the Sustainable Communities Act for the Community Empowerment agenda.

Sadly (if predictably) the meetings were boycotted by New Labour, but the participation of the Conservatives, the Greens and John Connelly from the Hounslow Independent Alliance, as well of course as the Community Group and Lib Dems, made for a good amount of cross-party discussion, and sometimes disagreement.

I sat on the Panel at the first of the four meetings, held at Isleworth Public Hall, where I was joined by Conservative councillor Adrian Lee, Green Party PPC John Hunt and Councillor Dakers, as well as the Chair David Pavett from the residents' group Campion Concerns.

Isleworth residents are obviously familiar with the empowerment idea, having elected Community councillors at the last three local elections, and the discussion started with the premise that giving more power to the grass roots was in principle the right thing to do. Whilst the sulky absence of a counter argument did unquestionably detract from the wholeness of the debate, the other members of the Panel all gave good accounts of themselves (I'll let others be the judges of my performance) and I think it would not be unreasonable for me to say that there was a feeling of general acceptance, and largely of enthusiasm, that the community agenda was in the ascendancy.

Meetings also took place in Hounslow, Brentford and Chiswick. I attended the Brentford one, albeit arriving late after trying unsuccessfully to purchase a car (needed for the ensuing weekend), but in time to witness a very impressive performance by my ICG colleague Jon Hardy. Several commentators on the community forum later delivered themselves of the view that Jon had been the pick of the bunch, despite the presence of three Prospective Parliamentary Candidates on the platform.

These fairly well-attended
but (in my view) unnecessarily expensive meetings will, I hope, prove to be the herald of a new era in the progress of the community agenda. Those who compliment us on the physical progress of the ICG over the past decade and a half - whilst their compliments are of course gratefully received - are, in fact, only half appreciating the magnitude of what has happened over that period of time and what is going on in our local politics. And what has happened is not only that the ICG has built itself up to six councillors and a working majority on the local Area Committee, but also that its political platform has begun to find favour in the most unlikely of places - in the thoughts of some of the political parties themselves!

Of course the ICG cannot in all good sense claim all the credit for the "new localism" which is being embraced with varying degrees of enthusiasm by politicians of all hues on the national as well as the local scene. However, how gratifying the realisation is that the half-dozen disenfranchised and slightly angry members of the hoi polloi who sat around a beer-sodden table in the Harlequin back in '93 deliberating over how the community could kick its way back into local community life were so thoroughly ahead of their time.

At the Isleworth meeting I publicly confessed that the culture at the heart of Hounslow Civic Centre had not in my view been changed as thoroughly as I'd have hoped by now in spite of the new administration having been in place for over three years. I also resolved that I would make up for lost time in rectifying that situation. Next week a Motion will go before Borough Council pledging total sign-up at all levels of the organisation within six months.

Community Empowerment is happening. We look forward to working with all those who welcome it. Those who don't can carry on sulking, but it is happening all the same.

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