We face a government led by people who have gone through the portal from ‘traditional conservativism’ to trumpist populism. And they’ve taken huge swathes of the country with them. Shropshire is Conservative territory, and voted for Brexit, so given the national mood no one should be surprised by the results here. Julia Buckley (Labour Party candidate for Shrewsbury and Atcham) put up a good fight in Shrewsbury. I just about remained calm in the face of understandable pleas to ‘not split the anti-Tory vote’. Knowing that this wasn’t going to be the story on the night gave me no pleasure.
So now what? Where are the chinks of light to fumble towards? How do we start the conversations in our community that could plant shoots of hope?
Here’s an anecdote. Several weeks ago I was at a meeting about ‘community led housing’. It was attended by around fifty, mostly rural Shropshire parish councillors and clerks. So not the Socialist Workers Party. The discussion made it clear that these county stalwarts passionately want affordable homes, built to carbon zero standards, with active and public transport options, for young people and families, so that their communities can thrive.
My point is that ‘up there’ at the level of national abstract politics it is true that we live in a community that is generally right wing, somewhat xenophobic, somehow taken in by posh liars… but ‘down here’ people share many of the same problems and whilst the solutions are still contested (the North West ‘Relief’ Road for example) that contest is less ideological and more practical.
In amongst the horrors of 2019 there was a chink of light in the May local elections. The Green Party doubled it’s number of councillors. But also independents did well, especially a new breed of progressive locally minded independents like ‘It’s our county’ in Herefordshire. The result there is a new administration including Greens.
Of course it’s true that local politics excites only a minority. It’s also true that the biggest issue we face is global. But breaking your back trying to move a mountain ain’t gonna help. Leveraging the local just might.
So what makes a place get it together to turn progressive?
Looking around it seems that local traditions and organisation and initiative really can provide the foundations for a movement for greater change. From Liverpool’s Sun boycotters to Brighton’s bohemians, cultural politics can marry with local politics to produce new possibilities. This counts for smaller places too. Think of Frome or Stroud or Hebden Bridge. These places are not uniformly revolutionary of course, but they seem to share a healthy pluralism with the progressive element to the fore (The frustration for Shrewsbury in particular, I suspect, is that many of us feel the place is not far off from having the critical mass that could make it a truly progressive town.)
There is no single answer. There is no single organisation that holds the key (but I’ll stake a claim for the Green Party to be vital). What we need is energy and initiative. Some of this will be in the form of protest and council motions and twittering and letter writing. But part of the story will be things like the Environment Centre; the Bike Hub; patient groups; parent groups… and then trying for initiatives that reach further in to our communities; a local energy co-op or a community bus or (to boost my own barely begun scheme) an intra-town walking festival.
So this is a call to activism. Yes that will include electioneering and leafleting (and – in the case of the Labour Party – coming out clearly against that bloody road) but it also includes building visible community structures that provide the sinews of a progressive community that can nudge and budge and tempt the town and the county towards the light.
Then we just have to hope that elsewhere things are happening that will help us.
Here’s a way to make a start. In January the Town Council will have a load of trees to plant. Let’s make this a lovely community event. If you want to join my ‘Porthill Posse’ go to this link.
Postscript. I humbly pay tribute to all those who are doing these things already. They are our heroes. To name-check just a handful of initiatives not so far mentioned; the Shrewsbury Cup; the Food Hub; Bishops Castle Land Trust; Funky Frankwell; Belle Vue Tree Planting Group; Surfers Against Sewage, Shropshire Defend our NHS, XR…