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Mediawatch: Desperately seeking the right suffix

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We have had some weeks with most days having just one big news item- Baroness Thatcher.

Much of this has focused on the debate about her legacy. In death, as in life, she has provoked strong voices both in support and in criticism. We have also been reminded about some powerful speeches, and wonderful bon mots - my favourite being the line where she said “As God said…I think rightly”.

But standing back from the detailed coverage two things are clear. To her surname you can add both “ism” and “ite”. Politics is about the interplay of the two. By “ism” I do not mean fully crafted PHD thesis - more a direction of travel. If you examine the practice, Thatcherism was in fact much more opportunistic and pragmatic than either acolytes or critics would like to admit. As for the “ites”, they had their differences as much as their agreements- but there was enough self- recognition for people to broadly know who were allies, or, in her memorable phrase, “one of us”.

It is the “ites” who build the momentum. If the “ism” is the story, the “ites” are the story tellers.

Post Baroness Thatcher I think we could add both endings to Blair and the words make sense (and, as with Thatcher, there would be both those in support and those in criticism - though this time more of the critics would be within the party!).

But since then no political leader would earn both endings. I don’t mean that as a criticism. Rather that in the post-2008 crash world we both lack the self-confidence to advocate such an approach, and lack the confidence in others to get behind such approaches.

But here is local government’s opportunity. Our “ism” has to be localism, which is at core an argument against waiting for the next big idea to be top-down delivered. Instead our pitch is that incentivising partners to collaborate and work out local solutions is the way forward. By localism I do not mean a concept imposed on us, but one that embraces what we are trying to achieve!

So starting at this year’s LGA conference we need to paint a Localism picture that can capture the imagination. The next challenge is to engage enough “Localites” to build the momentum.  These “Localites” need to be more than the usual suspects, and from places beyond local government, so watch this space.

Joe Simpson, principal strategic adviser, LGA

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