MPs and Councillors have nothing to fear from Community Power

December 6, 2021  

Some elected representatives find community power objectionable. Adam Lent explains why their concerns say more about the failings of the current system than about a community powered alternative.

Some of the strongest objections to community power I hear often come from councillors and MPs.

These are the three criticisms I come across most regularly.

  1. Voters expect us to take the big decisions on their behalf, not go back to them with questions.
  2. People don’t understand or care about the complex issues we grapple with as MPs and councillors when making decisions.
  3. Community power would hand greater influence to the well-off, to self-appointed community leaders and obsessives at the expense of the majority or of marginalised communities.

It has occurred to me that these concerns amount to a political version of psychological projection.

Just as Freud and many others noted the tendency of individuals to ascribe their own flaws to others, these objections are really existing failings of the current overly hierarchical political system.

We can see this projection operating within each of the three objections above:

  1. The current system specifically tells voters to hand over responsibility for decision-making to elected representatives.
    It is hardly surprising that that is what they expect.
  2. It is the nature of hierarchy that information and understanding is reserved for a decision-making body.
    The wider public may seem ignorant or self-interested to members of that body precisely because there is no process for, nor culture of, sharing that information and understanding with the wider public about how decisions are made.
  3. Our current system is a magnet for the well-off, self-appointed leaders and obsessives.
    It is its very hierarchy and exclusive culture that makes it so susceptible to influence by only those with the self-confidence, resources or persistence to puncture the walls that are deliberately designed keep everyone else out.

It is true that community power done badly or half-heartedly would replicate and even exacerbate these flaws. But when done properly, community power is an antidote to these weaknesses of the current system.

This is because community power is about handing real influence over to communities. As a result, it gradually breaks down the rejection of responsibility and lack of understanding that inevitably arises when people feel powerless. It builds trust and engagement over time with communities that have understandably been left cynical of authority, by offering them real power and resource to make change on their own terms.

So, our councillors and MPs really have nothing to fear from community power.

In fact, those who have embraced it open-heartedly have found that it alleviates one further flaw of the current system: the general miserableness of being an elected representative.

Politics today is shot through with mistrust, misunderstanding and anger. Why? Directly as a result of efforts to maintain hierarchical power in a context where people no longer see the benefit of that hierarchy.

Community power is about precisely the opposite: building trust, understanding and consensus between state and people by the sharing rather than imposing power.

I can’t see why any elected representative, unless they were truly masochistic, would reject a chance to operate in a political world like that.

Photo: Community Power in Wigan during Covid-19

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