by Christine Cheyne, Member of the Policy & Politics Editorial Advisory Board and Associate Professor, School of People, Environment and Planning at Massey University, New Zealand
I’m always drawn to ‘edge-y’ articles – or writing that decenters, provokes and challenges – and this issue does not disappoint. The article by Andrew Ryder, Gypsies and Travellers a Big or Divided Society, offers a fresh perspective on the localism debate that has characterised recent UK public policy. Although much less a feature of other jurisdictions, the localism debate in the UK that has some resonance for readers in many parts of the world as it highlights long-standing tensions in democratic theory between statism and localism. These tensions, I would argue, have been exploited by higher levels of government in many parts of the world (including my own country, New Zealand) since the 2008 global financial crisis. Ryder shows with his case study of the treatment of Gypsy and Traveller site provision under the new localist planning system that even though overt state intervention is resiled from, localism can be a new form of control of local politics and can exacerbate inequalities and social exclusion which might otherwise be mitigated through central planning guidance or redistributive policies. Ryder asserts Habermas’s deliberative democratic ideal in making a case for a ‘new centralism’, an inclusive governance that recognizes a role for a central state to protect vulnerable minorities, but which also insists on participatory and deliberative democratic processes so that localism doesn’t become (or increase) NIMBY-ism.
Provoking some further intellectual discomfort, climate change is a profoundly complex public policy challenge to which meaningful responses continue to be lacking. While the focus is often, appropriately, on younger age groups and the implications for their lifestyles, Wistow et al. draw attention to the realities for a particularly vulnerable group in our society, the dependent elderly, who are less visibly but, arguably, more seriously disadvantaged by extreme weather events associated with climate change that can damage and destroy built infrastructure. With an ageing population dependent on electricity supply, not just for domestic heating (or cooling), but also for provision of medical care such as hoists, oxygen supplies and dialysis, contemplating the adverse consequences of disruption from extreme weather events is sobering. Wistow et al. provide detailed data from interviews and focus groups about the risks and options to address them. Even if 50 is the new 30, readers will be challenged to think about the implications for the ageing/dependent groups – if not ourselves then our older family members from whom we are often living at some distance. Localism has much yet to deliver both for our most vulnerable groups but for all of us experiencing climate change. Getting the balance between central and local leadership and community participation is critical.
You can read the whole January 2015 issue of Policy & Politics here.