Communities are being failed. It’s time to enshrine their rights. – by Adam Lent, of the newly-rebranded New Local (October 15, 2020)
The Government’s centralised response and lethal failures on Covid mean it’s time to acknowledge that local communities have rights that should be enshrined in law.
Demands for rights to be respected have nearly always arisen when those rights have been most abused. One of England’s earliest and most iconic rights rebellion – the barons’ uprising that resulted in Magna Carta – was inspired by an overbearing King. The demands for democratic rights in early nineteenth century Britain were, in part, a reaction against the restrictive laws passed by Governments fearful of revolution. Campaigners for women’s and gay rights in the 1960s and 1970s were spurred on by the oppressive social conservatism of the post-war period. And Scotland’s big push for greater rights to self-determination in the 1990s was inspired by a high-handed Government in Westminster that had never enjoyed majority support north of the border.
Now we are in such a moment again – or, at least, we should be.
Highly centralised and without any concession to engagement, the pandemic response has been a disaster for local communities. Central Government’s determination to control everything has not only led to one of the highest per-capita death rates in the world but has also meant that important differences between local communities have been ignored.
it is now time to recognise that what we are experiencing is not simply weak policy but the systematic abuse of community rights
Most notably, Covid-19 lockdown and shielding restrictions were initially eased largely uniformly across the country. This was despite the number of cases per thousand population in different towns and cities varying very substantially. The Government’s very gradual recognition of the unavoidable need for a more localised response both to lockdown easing, the reintroduction of restrictions and wider issues of the pandemic response has been confused, grudging and repeatedly prone to bouts of autocratic decision-making from the centre.
The Government’s mishandling of the pandemic response is now widely characterised as the consequence of poor decisions and control freakery. However, the results have been so egregious that it is now time to recognise that what we are experiencing is not simply weak policy but the systematic abuse of community rights. An abuse that is merely a recent accentuation of a lower profile neglect of those rights that has been ongoing for decades in this country.
The term and concept of community rights is not one that is common in the UK. So, just as other notions of rights were developed at the point of their heightened abuse, I want to spend the rest of this piece detailing why community rights is important as an idea and what those rights might look like before returning to the current moment.
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