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The smallest common denominator

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Creating the first civil parish in London is exciting. We are pioneers, and know our project is special.

Creating the first civil parish in London is exciting. We are pioneers, and know our project is special. No one has done what we are doing in Queen’s Park before and if we pull it off we might become a case study, even a role model.

And if we fail? Well… others can learn from our mistakes.

But for how long will we be London’s only parish? When we launched our campaign three years ago we learned of other London groups that were thinking about parishes.

There was one in Wapping, another in London Fields, discussions in Kilburn and at Coin Street on the South Bank.

Back in 2010, when the political talk was about the Big Society - when it wasn’t about cuts - setting up a parish council seemed an on-message thing to do. When I visited a parish in Bradford and wrote about it for the Guardian, decentralisation minister Greg Clark told me he looked forward to a “great revival” of parish politics.

Conservative MP Rory Stewart said: “If the Big Society is about something distinctive, it is about local democracy and communities organising themselves.”

But the trail went cold. The Localism Act 2011 granted a general power of competence, and some enterprising parishes have since developed affordable housing and otherschemes. In Queen’s Park we were offered support by a senior civil servant and invited to speak at a Department for Communities & Local Government conference.

Liberal Democrat local government minister Don Foster visited us. Last month he announced measures intended to make campaigning for new parishesless arduous. In future 7.5% of local electors must sign a petition rather than 10%, and local authorities will have less time to respond.

There is even funding of up to £10,000 for campaigns.

But what is missing is a sense of direction. Mr Foster’s announcement went under the radar. It feels as though no-one in government cares much about parishes either way. No wonder that, for now, more civil parishes in London are not happening.

Of course we are small fry, compared with the bigspending authorities fighting with our massively centralised state. But every politician who talks about decentralisation or localism needs to have an answer to the question: where does your devolution stop?
What is the lowest level at which people need to be represented democratically?

In Queen’s Park, our answer is: the civil parish.

 

Susanna Rustin, Queen’s park community campaigner

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