Power and Capacity in Urban Climate Governance

Pete Eckersley, Nottingham Trent University

LGRC/ CURA seminar

Date and time: 8 May 2019, 3-5pm,

Venue: Hugh Aston Building, HU3.96, DeMontfort University

Abstract

This LGRC/CURA seminar, which draws on the findings of a monograph published in 2018, introduces a new framework to help understand how different systems of government shape policymaking arrangements at the municipal level. By applying the framework to climate governance in three sectors (climate change strategy, planning and each council’s own corporate activities), it will show how low levels of resource interdependence between central and local government in England, exemplified by austerity funding cuts, mean that Newcastle Council has to rely heavily on other horizontal actors to achieve its climate objectives. In contrast, Gelsenkirchen Council receives substantial support from higher tiers of government, which gives it greater control over policymaking within the locality.

Ultimately, therefore, it highlights how ‘vertical’ intergovernmental relationships influence ‘horizontal’ interactions between municipalities and other local actors, and ultimately shape policy objectives and outcomes at the local level. It also reveals how urban policymaking arrangements in both Germany and England are evolving, as municipal governments seek to increase their capacity to address challenging policy problems whilst facing resource constraints.

Dr Peter Eckersley is a Senior Research Fellow at Nottingham Trent University with interests in public policy, multi-level governance, sustainability, austerity and public accountability. Prior to working at Nottingham Trent, he held postdoctoral research posts at Newcastle University, the University of York and the University of Sheffield, and before entering academia he spent ten years as a policy and management adviser at the Chartered Institute for Public Finance and Accountancy. His monograph, Power and Capacity in Urban Climate Governance, came out in 2018 and he has also published in a range of political science, public administration, geography, management and accounting journals.

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CURA Events Spring/Summer 2019

CURA is pleased the confirm a lively programme of events in May, June and July, as follows:

Date & Time
Event details
8 May
3-5pm, HU3.96
P Eckersley, Nottingham Trent University
LGRC/CURA seminar
16 May
4-6pm HU2.06
PPP/CURA seminar
29 May
2-4pm
HU3.96
M Geddes, Warwick University
CURA seminar
12-13 June
12 June
6-7.30pm
HU0.08
CURA Annual Lecture by Dr Sarah Marie Hall
19 June
24 June
4-5.30pm
HU2.41
M Atzeni Centro de Estudios e Investigaciones Laborales, CONICET
Local politics and workers’ organisational practices in the waste collection and recycle chain in Argentina and Chile
POWI/LGRC/CURA seminar
26 June
2-4pm
HU3.95
J Blamire, University of Exeter
The Political Geographies of Brexit in Leicester: An Ethnographic Analysis
CURA seminar
27 June
1-4 July

 

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Revolutionary and reactionary urbanisms: La Paz, El Alto and Santa Cruz, Bolivia

Mike Geddes, University of Warwick

Date and time: Wednesday 29 May 2019, 2.00-4.00pm

Venue: Hugh Aston Building, Room HU3.96, DeMontfort University

Abstract

Urban identities in Bolivia have historically reflected, but also significantly shaped, the country’s complex and conflicted history.

La Paz, a culturally primarily indigenous city situated in a great bowl-like valley high in the Andean region of Bolivia, was founded by the Spanish conquistadors and was historically a site of colonialist domination. In the late 20th and early 21st century, La Paz was the locus of struggle between conservative governments and oppositional forces. But it took a new urbanism to tip the balance towards the opposition and the eventual accession to government of the MAS government led by Evo Morales. This was El Alto, a new city on the lip of the bowl in which La Paz lies, populated by large scale peasant migration from the surrounding Andes. From El Alto, massive demonstrations poured down into La Paz, and were instrumental in forcing the defeat of the neoliberal regime in a revolutionary moment installing the first indigenous/socialist president and government of Bolivia.

The stability of the Morales government remained threatened however by the presence in the lowland east of the country of opposition forces based in large scale agriculture and centred on the city of Santa Cruz. The largest city in the country, culturally Spanish and the focus of economic and industrial dynamism in contrast to the poverty of the Andean region, Santa Cruz epitomised the continuing strength of the forces of reaction in Bolivia.

The paper will explore the contribution of these contrasting urbanisms to ongoing processes of change.

 

Professor Mike Geddes

 

Background

My academic background is in history and geography (BA Southampton) and urban and regional studies (PhD Sussex).  From 1989 to 2008 I was Senior Research Fellow, Reader and Professorial Fellow in the Local Government Centre, Warwick Business School.  My research spanned a range of issues in local politics and public policy, with particular interests in theories of the state and cross-national comparative analysis of patterns of local governance under neoliberalism.

 

Current research

My interest in cross-national comparative analysis led to my current research focus on aspects of contemporary politics and policy in Latin America, especially those countries with more progressive political regimes.  Specific research topics include radical initiatives in local politics and governance; political and policy programmes which claim to challenge the hegemony of neoliberalism; and projects to ‘refound’ the neo-colonialist and neoliberal state.  I am particularly interested in contemporary politics and policy in Bolivia.

 

Selected publications

Geddes M N (2019  Forthcoming)  Co-editor.  Latin American Marxisms  Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Geddes M N (2019 forthcoming)  Megaprojects:  Capital, states and civil society in Latin America. In Latin American Marxisms  Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Geddes M N (2016) What happens when community organising moves into government?  Recent experience in Latin America, in Shaw M and Mayo M (Eds) Class, Inequality and Community Development, Bristol: Policy Press.

Geddes M N (2014) The old is dying but the new is struggling to be born:  Hegemonic contestation in Bolivia.  Critical Policy Studies.8, 2, 165-182.

Geddes M N (2014) Neoliberalism and local governance: radical developments in Latin America.  Urban Studies.  Online 7 January, DOI: 10.1177/0042098013516811.

Geddes M N and Sullivan H (2011) Localities, leadership and neoliberalisation: Conflicting discourses , competing practices.  Critical Policy Studies, Vol 5 No 4, 391-493.

Geddes M N (2011) Neoliberalism and local governance: Global contrasts and research priorities.  Policy and Politics, 39, 3, 439 – 447.

Guarneros-Meza V and Geddes M (Eds) (2010) Symposium on local governance and participation under neoliberalism.  International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 34, 1, 115-173.

Geddes M N (2010) Building and contesting neoliberalism at the local level: Reflections on the symposium and on recent experience on Bolivia.  International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 34, 1, 163-173.

Geddes M N (2008) Marxist theories of urban politics, in Davies J and Imbroscio D (Eds) Theories of urban politics. London: Sage.

Fuller C and Geddes M N  (2008) Local governance under neoliberalism: Local state restructuring and scalar transformation Antipode 40, 2, 252-282.

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Conversing with Goliath: Participation, mobilisation and repression

Dr Valeria Guarneros-Meza of CURA reports from an ongoing investigation into environmental conflict in Mexico. Outputs from the collaborative research “Conversing with Goliath” have recently been reported in Mexican media, see details below.

 

Despite the normative framework promoting consultation and participation of communities in the implementation of extractive megaprojects, violent conflicts have increased in Mexico since the introduction of the 2013-14 legal reforms of mineral, hydrocarbon and alternative energy projects.

In finding answers to this paradox, the questions that drive this research are: What strategies have been used by the different actors to manage the above mentioned conflicts? How have the different sub-national contexts of government capacity impacted on the strategies followed? What have been the main obstacles and opportunities for implementing participatory institutions? How have informal and illegal practices intersect in these processes? What have been the main results in the economic, environmental protection and rights (human, political, social) spheres?

In the first two years, the project has delivered a comprehensive newspaper review (Jan 2006-Jan2019) of all environmental conflicts published in the Mexican media. An analysis of the results was widely disseminated in Mexican media outlets on 27 February 2019. To read a summary and consult the cartography of over 800 conflicts visit here (in Spanish).

Other outputs from the project include a juridical analysis of all the laws related to the extractive industry in Mexico and the problems of coordination and coherence of such legal framework, available online (in Spanish).  For a brief English summary of the initial findings of three in-depth case studies (Sonora, Tabasco and Oaxaca) of extractive industries and their impact on communities, visit here (pdf).

This project is sponsored by the British Academy-Newton Advanced Fellowship Grant (Ref. AF160219). The lead investigators are: Dr. Gisela Zaremberg (FLACSO-Mexico) and Dr. Valeria Guarenros-Meza (De Montfort University)

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Municipalism 2019: An International Exchange

Registrations are still open  for the 2nd conference on Municipalism, to be held at De Montfort University (DMU), Leicester, 4-5 April 2019. Registrations will close on Monday 1st April 2019, at 17:00 (GMT).

Abstract

In the last decade, austerity has had a significant impact on the local sphere. Budget squeezes, public services cuts and institutional restructuring came along with growing social needs, and local governments have struggled to keep providing the goods and services needed to stay afloat. However, we have also seen how the local sphere can also be an ideal lab for democratic experimentation and social innovation. Spanish, and particularly Catalan cities with Barcelona at the forefront, have been examples of municipal experimentation over the past few years under the idea of the New Municipalism. However, what is New Municipalism? Is New Municipalism an effective answer to austerity? How is New Municipalism delivered?

The Centre of Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) at De Montfort University, Leicester, in collaboration with the University of Girona and the Betiko Foundation, is holding a two-day conference to discuss all these issues on 4th and 5th April 2019. The conference is organised in the form of an international exchange between academics and practitioners. The conference builds on CURA’s  “Municipalism in the 21st century” conference held in June 2018.

Municipalism 2019: an International Exchange programme includes sessions to discuss the concept and definition of New Municipalism, and roundtables where experiences and reflections on how to deliver Municipalism are shared, creating an environment in which cities can learn from one another.

Conference programme


4th April

9:00 am to 9:30 am

Hugh Aston Building Atrium

Registration and Reception
9:30 am to 11:00 am

Queens Building 1.10

Municipalism 2019: The State of the Debate

Prof Jonathan Davies (DMU-CURA)

Dr Ismael Blanco (UAB-IGOP)

11:00 am to 11:20 am Coffee Break
11:20 am to 1:00 pm

Queens Building 1.10

SEMINAR: What is the new municipalism? Theoretical and Practical Approaches

Keynote speaker: Dr Angel Calle (Córdoba University)

Discussants: Prof. Steven Griggs (DMU-LGRC)

1:00 pm to 2:00 pm Lunch Break
2:00 pm to 4:00 pm

Hugh Aston Building 3.04

ROUND TABLE: Building counter-hegemony through the new muncipalism

Speakers: Dr Mercè Cortina-Oriol (DMU-CURA), Joan Cuevas (Bofill Foundation – Sabadell City Council), Quim Arrufat (DESC – UB), Dr Bertie Russell (University of Sheffield),

Moderator: Dr Ben Whitham (DMU-CURA)

5th April

9:00 am to 11:00 am

Clephan Building 3.03

PRACTITIONER ROUND TABLE 1: Delivering New Municipalism: Towards Economic and Social Equality

Keynote Speakers: Pilar Castillejo (Ripollet City Council), Agnès Rotger (Badalona City Council), Cllr Asima Shaikh (Islington Council), Neil McInroy (CLES)

Moderator: Anaïs Varo (UdG)

11:00 am to 11:30 am Break
11:30 am to 1:30 pm

Clephan Building 3.01

PRACTITIONER ROUND TABLE 2: Delivering New Municipalism:

Re-building Local Democracy

Keynote Speakers: Jose Téllez (Badalona City Council), Ivan Miró (Cooperativist movement Barcelona; Fanny Malinen (Research for Action), Andrew Ross (Unite Community)

Moderator: tbc

1:30 pm to 2:15 pm Lunch
2:15 pm to 3:00 pm

Clephan Building 3.03

Mapping the New Municipalism: Introducing Atlas del Cambio

Dr Ricard Vilaregut (UdG-CURA) and Dr Ángel Calle (University of Córdoba).

3:00 pm to 3:15:00 pm Break
3:15 pm to 5:15 pm

Clephan Building 3.03

PRACTITIONER ROUND TABLE 3: Scaling Municipalism: Beyond and above the City

Keynote Speakers: Carles Escolà (Cerdanyola City Mayor), Dolors Sabater (Badalona City Mayor 2015-2018), Cllr Emine Ibrahim (Deputy Leader – London Borough of Haringey), Matthew Brown (Leader – Preston City Council)

Moderator: Dr Adam Fishwick (DMU-CURA)

5:15   pm to 5:30 pm

Clephan Building 3.03

CLOSING REFLECTIONS AND NEXT STEPS

Prof. Jonathan Davies (DMU-CURA)


 

 

Please follow the CURA blog for confirmation of further speakers and other announcements.

The conference is free of charge, and limited space are available. Please book your place online. Registrations will close on Monday 1st April 2019, at 17:00 (GMT).

 

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DMU Doctoral College PhD Scholarships 2019-20

The Centre for Urban Research on Austerity (CURA) invites outstanding prospective PhD students to apply for a De Montfort University (DMU) PhD Scholarship. We welcome applications from students capable of developing innovative, interdisciplinary and internationally relevant research in any field related to cities, urban living and austerity. We further encourage applicants interested in collaborative projects across research centres.

Applicants interested in working with CURA should, in the first instance, submit a research proposal of up to 750 words, outlining the proposed project and how it fits with DMU and CURA. This should include:

– an overview and research questions,

– an explanation of the intellectual positioning of the project,

– the proposed research methodology and methods,

– link to one or more research areas of urban living, lifelong well-being, creativity in the digital age and social value and/or one or more of the 17 United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals

The proposal should be submitted, with a CV, to the Institute Head of Research Students, Dr Adam Fishwick (adam.fishwick@dmu.ac.uk), to identify support and supervision for the project from the Centre.

Once approved by a potential supervisor, the student must submit final scholarship applications to pgrscholarships@dmu.ac.uk by Tuesday 26 March 2019. More details on how to submit applications and what to include in the final submission are available here: https://www.jobs.ac.uk/job/BQL657/de-montfort-university-phd-scholarships.

 

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CURA research seminars launched for 2019

CURA research seminars for Winter/Spring 2019 have been launched, with two CURA members, Dr Jenni Cauvain (@jenniviitanen) and Dr Adam Fishwick (@Adam_Fishwick) with Dr Heather Connolly  (@DrHMConnolly) taking the upcoming slots on February 20th and March 13th respectively. Jenni will be sharing the results of her latest interdisciplinary research into income inequality and segregation in UK cities. Adam and Heather will discuss their new book on austerity and working class resistance, see below for more details.

For enquiries, or to book a place, please contact jenni.cauvain@dmu.ac.uk.

=======================================================

Income inequality and segregation in UK cities – towards a new research agenda

Dr Jenni Cauvain

Wednesday 20 February 2019, 2.00-4.00pm

Hugh Aston Building, Room 3.96, DeMontfort University

Abstract:

Income inequality and income-based segregation are linked with critical urban studies and practical policy endeavours to build sustainable communities and cities. In the UK, the lack of detailed data on household incomes has previously hindered such efforts. This seminar discusses why income inequality and segregation matter for urban sustainability, and outlines the results of a detailed investigation into household incomes at Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) in the UK for the first time. The empirical analysis uses established measures of segregation; Dissimilarity Index, Gini coefficient and Interaction Index. The focus is on a case study of the city of Nottingham and its wider metropolitan area, but comparative data is provided for UK core cities and selected comparators including Derby, Leicester, Southampton, Cambridge and Winchester. The conclusions draw on a critical perspective on household income statistics and what they reveal about the  hegemonic ideology concerning “problems” in cities being associated with and arising from low income households, rather than from inequality.

The research is an output from the project “Sustaining Urban Habitats – an interdisciplinary perspective” (University of Nottingham) funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

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Austerity and Working-Class Resistance: Survival, Disruption and Creation in Hard Times

Dr Adam Fishwick  and Dr Heather Connolly

Wednesday 13 March 2019, 2.30-4.30pm

Hugh Aston Building, Room 3.96, DeMontfort University

Abstract:

The working classes today are facing a new set of crises around increasing austerity, authoritarianism, exploitation, and surveillance. But in many places, and in many ways, they are resisting. From new forms of workplace organisation, migrant workers challenging their exploitation, struggles against digitalised work, and through alternative forms of grassroots mobilisation, working-class resistance is emerging in new and often unexpected spaces.

Through a range of cases in Europe and from around the world, this book brings radical voices from sociology, political economy, labour relations, and media studies to offer an understanding of the potential of working-class struggles in and against these ‘hard times’. This engaging volume is an attempt to understand how new, dynamic sites of resistance in and outside the workplace are central to the different ways in which workers survive, disrupt, and create new ways of living.

The perfect guide for students and academics looking for a critical and comprehensive collection dealing with contemporary and global cases of working-class resistance.

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Deadly housing crisis enrages the people of Marseille

In today’s blog post, Leon Reichle reports and reflects on the recent collapse of residential houses in central Marseille, contextualizing it as an ugly face of urban redevelopment policies and arguing for the close attention that should be payed to the emergence of a movement of city dwellers determined to fight for housing justice.

In the city that hosts Europe’s largest urban redevelopment project (since 1995), the housing conditions of the poor have resulted in a deadly crisis. On the 5th of November Taher, Simona, Fabien, Niasse, Julien, Ouloume, Sherife and Marie have lost their lives under two crumbling buildings in the heart of Marseille. The rage about their deaths and the following mass evacuations gave birth to a movement full of interesting coalitions.

Economically, Marseille has never really recovered from the deindustrialisation and decolonisation, which the shift towards tourism economy cannot make up for. With an unemployment rate that is almost 50% higher than the national average, it is the poorest city of France, with over a quarter of the people living in poverty and many more very close to it. With its somewhat contradictory urban development, the European Cultural Capital of 2013 is also the only city in France, where the city centre has not been (fully) gentrified. At the time Marseille hosts Europe’s largest urban redevelopment project Euromediterranée since 1995, which wants to attract enterprises and create an “intelligent, connected and durable town” and is in line with the touristification of the city. How very durable this city has become under the rule of its republican mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin, who has been in office for 23 years, is shown by the current housing crisis. Gaudin, who has earlier allowed himself statements in favour of the “replacing of foreign populations”, is now attacked for the policies that have left large parts of the city to decay, especially those housing the poor and several generations of migrants, by a growing counter movement.

Noailles, known for its markets and Maghreb shops and restaurants is a historic migrant and working-class district marked by the dilapidation of its houses. However recently its central market has been temporarily displaced in favour of an urban renewal program coordinated by a local society for urban renovation and a luxury hotel is under construction. In the little streets that still host informal markets, the police presence has visibly increased in the last years. Parallel to the ambitious renewal projects, the residential houses have continuously deteriorated up to a point where the state of the houses has become life-threatening.

On November 5th, two of the run down houses in Rue d’Aubagne, number 63 and 65 literally reached the breaking point. One of them, number 63, was abandoned, as it had been declared unsafe already in 2012, when the owners of flats were forced to sell to the city. “It is the same in many parts of the city, they just shut off the electricity at some points and board the houses up”, says Martha, a young teacher that used to squat in Noaille. The other building that collapsed, number 65, was still inhabited, even though residents had repeatedly reported the unsettling conditions and some of them had already left their flats, because the doors did not close anymore. A report issued in 2015 considers 40,000 buildings unsafe in Marseille, out of which only 111 have been evacuated. “It’s crazy because you see the cracks in the wall but you never think that the houses will actually collapse”, utters Martha in disbelief.

Since the collapse of the houses, over 1800 people have been evacuated and many of them are enraged.

A woman in a protest tells the news reporter “Before I didn’t protest in Marseille, because I thought, well it probably serves nothing, but now, there is a thing of – we don’t have a choice, in fact, we don’t have a choice anymore! There are people who died! My friends got evacuated! There are people who just die in their homes!” This marks an interesting turning point in Marseilles housing policies – as they are now being contested by many who have not made their voices heard up to this point. Those who have been evacuated after the crashes have been placed in hotels all over the city, partly far from their jobs and their children’s school and complain about bad conditions and a lack of information and respect, like an angry woman confirms “We are not given any news, and we are spoken to, as if we were unwanted… I have to remind them that we are not in this hotel for holidays!” Together with the friends and families of the victims, with local activists and a broad mix of Marseille’s residents they form a protest movement that has repeatedly brought thousands of people to the streets.

The Collective of the 5th of November, Noailles en colère (Noailles in anger) started organizing after the catastrophe, provides support for those evacuated and took part in the organization of demonstrations, which have been a platform for a variety of voices. Last Saturday, on the 1st of December, the protesters reached a number of 12000 people and had to face heavy police violence. Not only was the demonstration joined by members of La France Insoumise, amongst them the Eurosceptic Mélenchon; sans-papiers who protested their evictions, but also by unionists from the CGT and the Gilets-Jaunes, who had a demonstration earlier on the same day. In support of the housing protest, they uttered their solidarity: “We stand next to those that protest these injustices, to support them with our expertise”.

The deadly housing crisis in Marseille stirs horrible memories of Glendfield Tower and is not seen as an accident by many. While millions are being spent on a highly contested redevelopment program in a neighbouring district, La Plaine, no money has been spent for the safety of Noailles residents. “In La Plaine they just built a 2 meter high concrete wall around the construction site so people couldn’t protest it anymore. And at the same time there is no money for housing??” asks Charlotte, a resident.

Much of the anger in the demonstrations turns towards Gaudin, who is definitely not a very likeable face of the cities policies. At the same time, Marseille is no exception in terms of urban renewal along class and race lines, where those who profit from the makeovers are mostly defined by their economic power. A systematic process of strategic neglect up to a point where reinvestment is profitable can be observed in countless gentrifying cities. Yet the case of Marseille is extreme, because the decay is so extensive, dangerous and deadly. This is shocking not only to those immediately concerned, but to many inhabitants of Marseille. The current uproar bears the potential of growing dissent with the ways in which urban restructuring takes place. Smaller protests against the refurbishment of La Plaine are now amplified by angry masses. Whether this movement can resist the intimidation and repression, whether it is patient and determined enough to keep making itself heard, which coalitions it is ready to form and how it is reacted to, remains to be seen. In order to reach any change of direction in urban policy, it is crucial that the housing injustices are continuously made visible, scandalized and contested, as they are far from over. In Noailles, auctions are currently taking place, where the dilapidated houses are being cautiously visited, inspected by and sold to buyers who are rarely planning on inhabiting themselves. “The shittier the better”, confides one visitor of an auction, who plans to resell for the double price, to an undercover journalist.

The death of Taher, Simona, Fabien, Niasse, Julien, Ouloume, Sherife and Marie is not a tragedy caused by the rain, as the city hall likes to put it, it is part of a violent form of restructuring, that devaluates the lives of poor people and eventually displaces them from the city centre. “They have been trying to gentrify Marseille since 20 years now”, says Martha. The housing situation in Marseille is clearly at a very interesting turning point. Whether the evacuated will be able to return to the city centre, in whose interest the money promised by the state will be spent, stays subject to scrutiny.

Leon Reichle is a PhD scholar at CURA with a background in Sociology, who has just started a PhD project on tenants’ interpretations of displacement. As a friend and frequent visitor of the city of Marseille Leon is passionate about developments in the city.

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Municipal Socialism- Lessons from UK Local Government?

In today’s post Neil Barnett reflects on the theme of his presentation at the Municipal Socialism conference hosted by CURA in June 2018.

Firstly, a note about this intervention/ contribution to the debate. Given the stimulating nature of the debate at the Municipal Socialism conference, what follows focusses little on the actual history of what could perhaps be called ‘municipal socialism’ in the UK. As the italics indicate, the extent to which the programmes of Labour Councils from the ‘gas and water’ municipalism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to the ‘New Urban Left’ of the 1980’s should be seen as ‘municipal socialism’ is open to question. I will leave that debate aside for now. In the context of municipal activism occurring around the globe at the present time, in which neo-liberalism and austerity are being contested by a widening variety of forms of protest, contestation and experimentation with alternative organisational forms, it may seem somewhat parochial and introverted to be focussing on Local Government in the UK, and in particular trying to draw lessons from the municipal past. Focussing on state institutions may, to be blunt, appear to be somewhat unexciting in this context. Municipal local government, of course, is not the same as municipalism, nor does it capture the rich variety of municipal politics and its unique position in challenging neo-liberal hegemony. Also, given the new and evolving forms which urban alternatives now offered, what is the point of looking back at what, at first glance, are ‘old fashioned’ state-led interventions?

So, I’d rather focus on quickly considering some responses to the questions posed above and reflect on the usefulness of local government to a progressive project- to what extent does this institution of the state offer any radical potential? Firstly, it is the case that ‘municipal socialism’ has re-appeared as a focus of debate in the UK due to interest in ‘the Preston Model’, that Council’s adoption of Community Wealth Building, and a Corbyn-led Labour Party’s deliberations on local government’s place in delivering a new economic model. Also, globally, from Jacksonville to Barcelona, questions have been posed about how, when and indeed whether, left activism should engage with local state institutions, what happens when they do, and the extent to which they can be used to deliver urban alternatives.  In each case, local or state governments are delivering progressive outcomes.

I would argue that, whilst much of our interest has, quite rightly, been on alternative forms of organisation and their potentialities, we are too often prepared to focus attention anywhere other than some of the obvious places- like local government. There are many reasons for this- its failure to deliver on promise in the past- particularly in the UK; its role as an agent of the centre- a model of state-led, top-down and (arguably) out- dated interventionism; its complicity in delivering austerity. Whilst it is recognised that there are opportunities to work within and against the state via local government, essentially it tends to be viewed as having limited emancipatory potential.

However, we can gain from looking back at municipalism as delivered by local governments in the UK as they bring to the forefront questions and dilemmas concerning the delivery of socialist alternatives; we may now pose these in different language but they remain essentially the same. We (on the left) raise them time after time, but seem reluctant to address in practical terms. These concern, amongst others, the dialectical relationship between prefigurative experimentation and the realism of delivery, how to move ‘beyond the fragments’, and the institutional arrangements and scales should be used to deliver ambitious social and economic change in practice.  We are lead to these dilemmas, but we often stop there, perhaps because they are by their very nature irresolvable, the answers unknown, inevitably evolving, but also, in my view, because addressing them in practice means engaging with the less interesting and mundane reality of administrative/ institutional design for delivery.

The renewed interest in Preston and local government’s role in municipalism is therefore interesting at this time, as it indicates, at least, the potentialities of local government. Previous attempts to offer alternatives from a municipal/ urban base may have ultimately met with defeat, as Jonathan Davies has pointed out, but they achieved things along the way, and left some progressive legacies-including, in the UK, a nascent, National Health Service. Preston Council has itself, of course, implemented the austerity required of it since 2010, doing its best to protect the most vulnerable (a pragmatic, ‘dented shield’ approach), whilst also being radically experimental and progressive. Other Labour Councils have done the same, though not all would accept the ‘municipal socialist’ label.

An incoming Labour government will have to start somewhere. Many areas without vibrant ‘alternative economies’ will need to be helped with state-led equalisation of resources- channelled, presumably via local (or regional?) state institutions. Questions will need to be addressed about democratic accountabilities, scales of operation/ delivery, and central-local divisions of responsibility. If we value local experimentation/ alternatives, what if localities choose to pursue some which are not the ‘right’ ones? Interesting questions, which can be met with a variety of responses- but these are the meat and drink of administrative reform, and inevitably, we bump into them again and again.  These dilemmas do raise historical precedent, of course, in reminding us of the uncertain attitude towards the ‘local’ in UK socialist thought- from the self-governing utopias of Robert Owen to the central administrative designs of the Fabians.

Finally, one lesson which we can take from history is that, of course, place matters. Prefigurative alternatives in Preston will take time to establish themselves as resilient alternatives in Preston, let alone Bolsover, for example. Looking back, the ‘gas and water socialism’ of the early twentieth century was not simply a question of monolithic state intervention, but in each case informed by the unique politics of place, promoted by civil society activists, non-conformist churches, and the co-operative and labour movements in each area- Glasgow being different in emphasis and approach to say, Leeds. Later, amongst the New Urban Left, Liverpool was quite distinct from London. As a Council, the GLC perhaps did more than any to ‘connect the fragments’ in a new, less state-centric way, but London had many unique characteristics which facilitated this. Municipal socialist alternatives will, as ever, depend on the capacities and opportunities offered in each place, and leave questions as to how to engender radical alternatives where such opportunities are less abundant. For these reasons, amongst others, local government within a national framework of priorities remains necessary and we should bring it back in to the centre of any pragmatic consideration of ways forward.

Neil Barnett is a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy in the Faculty of Business at Leeds Beckett University.

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What is Municipal Socialism in the 21st Century?

We are delighted to publish this short video, produced by Stir to Action, explaining the aims, politics and policies of contemporary Municipal Socialism. It was produced based on discussions at our recent Municipal Socialism in the 21st Century Conference (programme below).

 

09:30 – Registration and Welcome

10:00 – Setting the Scene (Jonathan Davies and Miguel Robles Duran)

10:30 – 12:15: Resistance and transformation: State, Commons and Class

Paul O’Brien (Association for Public Service Excellence): Community Wealth Building: Towards a New Municipalism

Simon Parker (Redbridge Borough Council): Limits and potentialities of municipal socialism: the case of Redbridge.

Hannah Gardiner (Shared Assets): Reframing Public Land

Dan Durrant (University College London): The Potential and Limits of Time Credits

Joe Beswick (New Economics Foundation): Municipal Housing and Municipal Socialism

12:15 – 13:00: Lunch

13:00 – 14:45: The Feminisation of Urban Power and Resistance

Liliana Almanza (Independent Workers Union of Great Britain): The organising power of women in outsourced worker struggles

Irantzu Varela (Activist/journalist from Bilbao): 8-M and its aftermath

Hilary Wainwright (Transnational Institute/Red Pepper): Feminism and the deepening of Local Democracy

14:45 – 15:15: Coffee

15:15 – 17:00: Whither Municipal socialism in the 21st Century?

Neil Barnett (Leeds Beckett University): Lessons from British Municipal Socialism

Bertie Russell (University of Sheffield): A Counter-History of Municipalism

Mike Geddes (University of Warwick): Implications of Radical Localism in Latin America

Frances Northrop and Adrian Bua (New Economics Foundation): What can a think tank do to advance Municipal Socialism?

17:00 – 17:15: Closing Discussion

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