Local politics is a special beast. It is particular, local, small fare and accessible. It is parish pump politics at its best.
Local politics is where active citizenship at a local level makes for more effective democracies and better government. Local government is small scale, specific and administrative in nature, for example, pot-holes, dog-bites and long grass.
Parochialism and localism are common characteristics of local government politics that can have positive and negative effects.
In this context parochialism refers to the over-emphasis on the particular at a local scale and prioritises the local to the exclusion of the wider community. Localism, which can re-enforce parochialism, is anti-centralist, and in rural areas looks back to the rustic traditions and values of the pre-industrial viliages, it shares many of the elements of rural ideology.
In Ian Willis’s article ‘Democracy in Place’, he examines the role of parochialism and localism played out in the 2008 New South Wales local government elections in the Camden Local Government Area. In his article ‘Democracy in Action’ he undertakes an historical analysis of the influence of parochialism and the competing role of rural gentry and townsmen.
Willis maintains that there is a strong anti-party sentiment in local politics and that this related to parochialism. Resident action groups are perhaps an exception as they have successfully harnessed parochialism to foster their form of local activism.
Local government politicians are known by people at a local level.
Local politicians are often local identities who are well known to the community and are highly accessible to members of the local community. Local patriotism is often the mark of success of a council politician, and national party affiliation or membership is seen with suspicion. Often local councillors are small businessmen who are self-made, self-sufficient, independent, hard working and conservative. Successfull local councillors have local networks of power based on business connections, membership of local clubs, and family and interpersonal networks and hierarchies.
In the Camden community rurality and the area’s bucolic nature have been part of mantra of local politics for a number of decades. This situation is typical of rural communities of Sydney’s metropolitan fringe that are under pressure from the city’s urban growth. Willis details how parochialism silenced council candidates around controversial issues.
Willis’s analysis of the various stakeholders in the local political process including the country press (civic journalism) and community organisations (active citizenship) illustrates the important place of parochialism in these small closed communities.
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