by Michael Meadowcroft
Clearly "Community Politics" is a very broad term and our development of its meaning is still at a very experimental stage. Self-defined "Classicists" have in fact made some telling criticisms of its early conception, but the strength of our caee is the bankruptcy of the old, exclusive system. What point is there in repeating experiments that have failed?
It is probably true to say that the conflicts within community politics are, like those in many other politics spheres, incable of absolute delineation. That ought not, however, prevent us looking at the different tensions that have emerged as tensions have developed.
Some of these conflicts that ought to be discussed are:
[a] neighbourhood versus region.
Clearly there is a need to consider criteria of need for development as between one neighbourhood and another rather than blind insistence on special attention to one's own area. There is also a need for methods of assessing the need for neighbourhood sized facilities as opposed to facilities as opposed to facilities appropriate to the whole city.
[b] cultural versus physical.
I would argue that as physical (ie houses, schools etc) renewal takes place there is a need also to have cultural (art, theatre, music etc) renewal. How far should Liberals exercise paternalistic pressure - say, for instance, pressing for a small concert hall rather than a bigger bingo hall?
[c] purity versus compromise.
Does community control permit a community to pursue fascist politics? At what point does the Liberal draw the line and refuse on principle to identify with the expressed community views?
[d] law versus anarchy.
The wide issue of direct action versus constitutional channels is particularly focussed at community level. How does one work out guidelines for escalation of pressure before, during and after, decision taking by the constitutional bodies; where is the point of principle at which it is justified deliberately to break the law?
[e] home versus abroad.
Given that we are not able ourselves to redistribute national wealth, how far are we justified in developing super-excellence in our communities while, for instance, Calcutta lacks almost every basic amenity?
[f] elitism by leadership.
There is still a tendency for communities to produce demagogues with a predilection to monopolising meetings and projects. Even more worrying is the inferiority complex felt by many of the poorer communities which manifests itself in an unwillingness to make decisions without reference to middle-class "intruders."
[g] No community existing.
What does one doe with areas with no consciousness of community? It is, alas, sometimes the result of appalling planning that vast council estates have no spirit of community. Do we just leave them out of the amazing benefits of the Great Idea?
[h] What party structure is possible and beneficial and which is compatible with community organisation?
No doubt there are other problems that have arisen in other areas. It will be instructive to see how far it is possible to set some guidelines for our mutual benefit.
Union of Liberal Students
Liberal Student Conference
11 and 12 November 1972