Where next for local democracy? A keynote speech by Rory Stewart MP

Author: Localis   |  

Rory Stewart MP delivered a speech on the future of local democracy on Wednesday 27th November.

There is a growing problem with democracy in this country, as overall levels of support and trust for government and the political system continue to fall. Trust between people and government needs to be restored to ensure a health working relationship, and local government is potentially in the best place to achieve this. Democracy needs local accountability and involvement to be at its most effective, but innovation in this sector has proved difficult, with proposed measures such as the introduction of elected mayors failing to capture the public imagination. Communities must be helped to engage with the democratic process, and smaller bodies such as parish councils could provide the key to a flourishing democracy.

In this context, Rory gave a barnstorming speech that questioned current thinking around local democracy and posed thought-provoking questions about what the future might hold.Rory argued that today’s Britain is comparatively more prosperous, educated and resourceful than any other period in its history. And yet, despite these perfect conditions for an Aristotelian deliberative democracy, fewer people are political animals.

Rory argued that there appear to be two main levels in which the population now engaged- that of the global or the private.

Campaigning for grandiose goals on the global stage cuts out the political and ignores the complexity of issues on the ground. He argued that it would “never make sense in our home town” to call on Kofi Annan to campaign for more housing and better planning.

At the micro level, the activities we carry out behind closed doors, many dedicate time to family and personal interests. But this level too is bereft of politics, where the public feel too busy and daunted by the complexity of it all to take part in politics.

In between the global and the private, Rory argued is the space of the citizen. The challenge to the future of local democracy is finding out how to fill the space in between.

Rory’s speech raised many interesting observations and clarified the place and space of politics in modern society.

Rory Stewart was elected as Member of Parliament for Penrith and the Border in May 2010. He is well known for his award winning book, The Places in Between, which details his journey on foot across Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, India, and Nepal. He was appointed to a professorial chair at Harvard University as the Ryan Family Professor on 1st January 2009 and became Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.