The BBC reports this morning that Helen Newlove urges communities to help tackle crime.
Helen Newlove is the government’s “communities champion”. In a report on tackling neighbourhood crime she suggests that residents should be able to set the speed limit on local roads and be given speed guns to enforce the law. In exchange for partaking in such community activism people should receive a council tax rebate or vouchers to spend on local services.
Newlove is probably right in that we all should take more responsibility for what happens before our eyes, if only it would not involve the acute possibility of having to tolerate verbal abuse or being beaten to a pulp.
The DIY activism concept fits perfectly into the government’s big society idea but leaves me wondering why taking responsibility only ever involves doing the jobs, for which there is little funding and that nobody else wants to do and why the implicit concept of people power does not allow people to exercise this power directly to influence decisions that impact on their lives.
Take Vince Cable – the business secretary, who joined the wrong party by mistake but makes up for it now – who said that he was listening to the hundreds of thousands of people, who had demonstrated against the government cuts on 26 March 2011, but they would not influence anything.
Or on my doorsteps, Wiltshire Council, who have received thousands of objections to their plans to destroy beautiful countryside but press ahead regardless.
In truth, people’s opinions count for very little unless they suit the government’s motives. The government of the day, that is, be that right-wing Conservatives, opportunistically oscillating LibDems or right-of-centre New Labour – old New Labour, of course. Nobody knows where new New Labour will position itself.
The suggested formation of a government-sanctioned residents’ mob is neither power to the people nor democracy in action. It is offloading government responsibilities and running its affairs on a shoestring.