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Democracy, Place and Local Government

Local Politics

Local politics is a special beast and is particular, local, small fare and accessible. It is parish pump politics at its best.

Active citizenship is best located in local politics where it makes for more effective democracies and better government. It is the best locality for volunteering and voluntary organisations.

Local government is small scale, specific  and administrative in nature, and looks after parochial matters that matter at the micro-level, for example, pot-holes, dog-bites and long grass.

In 2014 this is the head office of Camden Council located in the former Victorian gentleman’s townhouse built by local businessman Henry Thompson.

Parochialism and localism are common characteristics of local government politics that can have positive and negative effects.

In this context parochialism refers to the over-emphasis on the particular at a local scale and prioritises the local to the exclusion of the wider community. Localism, which can re-enforce parochialism, is anti-centralist, and in rural areas looks back to the rustic traditions and values of the pre-industrial viliages, it shares many of the elements of rural ideology.

In Ian Willis’s article ‘Democracy in Place‘, he examines the role of parochialism and localism played out in the 2008 New South Wales local government elections in the Camden Local Government Area.

In another of his articles ‘Democracy in Action’ Willis undertakes an historical analysis of the influence of parochialism and the competing role of rural gentry and townsmen.

Willis maintains that there is a strong anti-party sentiment in local politics and that this related to parochialism. Resident action groups are perhaps an exception as they have successfully harnessed parochialism to foster their form of local activism.

Willis argues that parochialism can silence council candidates around controversial issues.

Local government politicians are known by people at a local level. Local politicians are often local identities who are well known to the community and are highly accessible to members of the local community.

Willis’s analysis of the various stakeholders in the local political process including the country press (civic journalism) and  community organisations (active citizenship) illustrates the important place of parochialism in these small closed communities.

Parochialism is often reflected in local patriotism, which is often the mark of success of a council politician, and national party affiliation or membership is seen with suspicion.

Many local councillors are small businessmen who are self-made, self-sufficient, independent, hard working and conservative.

Successful local councillors have local networks of power based on business connections, membership of local clubs, and family and interpersonal networks and hierarchies.

In the Camden community rurality and the area’s bucolic nature have been part of mantra of local politics for a number of decades.

This situation is typical of rural communities of Sydney’s metropolitan fringe that are under pressure from the city’s  urban growth.

Read more on these issues:

Ian Willis: Democracy in Action in Local Government, Camden, NSW

Ian Willis: Democracy in Place, Parochial Politics and the 2008 Local Government Elections

Camden Council

Updated 27 April 2021. Originally posted 17 March 2014.