When I launched the new website ProgLoc (Progressive Localism) – the online forum for the left in local government just after the local elections in May – I had hoped that the site would be the flag-bearer for a wave of Labour town hall victories around the country.
As it was, success was more solid and steady than a glorious tide of red sweeping the local government map. While we seized some major towns and cities such as Newcastle and York and won every council seat in Manchester, there were some councils that just eluded us. This did not make the launch of ProgLoc any less important or timely, however. If anything, it made it more so.
The aim of ProgLoc is to provide an online platform for open debate on the key issues affecting local government and to become a hub for the best new thinking amongst progressives at local level. This is important for a number of reasons:
1 – To fight back: The Tory-led government’s view of localism is of a minimalist local state, starved by the cuts, at the mercy of Eric Pickles’ whims, and undermined by alternate democratic mandates. The left must redefine a view of localism that is positive and constructive – that is about local government supporting and empowering communities, not leaving them to sink or swim. The site also provides an opportunity to tackle reactionary approaches and negative briefing against local public services. For example, South Tyneside’s response when Eric Pickles visited the northeast and claimed he had ‘fought hard’ for the region. But the fightback has to be constructive too, and that is why ProgLoc seeks…
2- To drive new ideas and innovation: The site aims to share new thinking and ideas on local public services and local government and to reclaim the localism agenda for the centre-left. It will stand up for the sector when required but also develop challenging new ideas about how to deliver better local services. Cllr Simon Henig, leader of Durham, shared their approach to empowering local people and Cllr Peter John, leader of Southwark, flagged up their voluntary sector transition fund. There are also major policy changes being made by government that affect our communities, and it is vital that we debate them. Cllr Steve Houghton, leader of Barnsley and Katie Schmueker of IPPR North shared their thoughts on the business rate debate on the site, and Graham Allen MP discussed a new constitutional settlement for local government.
3 – To demonstrate Labour values in action: Local government is the one place in England where Labour holds power, where it can have a real impact on people’s lives through the decisions we make, the priorities we choose and the way in which we run our services and spend our (now very limited) money. It is vital that we demonstrate our principles and that we know what we believe in. Islington’s fairness commission is one example of how Labour councils are putting our values at the heart of what they do. This is how we show the public what we stand for, and that we are ready again for government.
4 – To galvanise our troops and support the next generation: The site should play a role in sharing the passion and commitment amongst local activists, and inspiring them through shared experience. It also aims to provide a voice for the next generation – those who may not get to speak on platforms very often or write major articles for the press. Liverpool’s youngest ever councillor Jake Morrison shared his experience with the site recently. So many great progressive politicians in the past have heralded from local government – we want to highlight good political leadership at local level, and support the development of talent.
For ProgLoc, the next steps after a successful launch and online presence are to become a live forum – one that enables events, roundtables, discussion forums and even drives new research. There is real potential here for ProgLoc to become a real driver for change in the way Labour councils deliver local services.
And by next May, when the seats that are up for election are more likely to be ones that swing back to Labour, it could just be that that glorious red tide becomes a reality.
Anna Turley is founder and editor of ProgLoc. If you would like to contribute to ProgLoc please email email@example.com
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