Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
6 December 2019updated 08 Jun 2021 8:18am

What we want: a focus on local politics

By Rory Stewart

For ten years I’ve been knocking on doors – many thousands of doors – asking people what they want. The question is easy – and central to our democracy. But the answers are hard, and hard to act on.

Sometimes people don’t want to answer because they are in the middle of cooking, or sleeping after a night shift, or are not wearing any clothes. Most, although happy to talk, are uncertain how to describe exactly what they want – in their complicated lives where so much is simultaneously going wrong and right. Put on the spot, standing on the threshold, minds go blank.

Just recently, in Camden, north London, my conversation with a woman began with the damage done to the pavement by tree roots. And then slowly expanded into a discussion of the local school, of cycle superhighways and what makes a neighbourhood beautiful. Her central anxiety was about the division between rich and poor, between her street and the estate. She wanted to contribute to youth clubs and community action, and she wanted an easy way to do it, that connected her not to a national charity but to people living nearby. She suggested that she’d be happy to give up two hours to spend with an elderly person each week if there was an app that connected her to that person. But she wanted it to be local.

How is any of this captured in a political manifesto, with its unreadable pages of technocratic policy, wrapped in a three-word phrase; the manifesto that has on its cover “Get Britain working”, “Get Brexit done”, “For the many not the few”? And inside is a thousand-layered pastry of acronyms, new units, spending pledges, taxation changes, nudges, threats and promises; a million on this, a billion on that, more police, or debt financing for shared-ownership starter-homes.

There are two things we often want that are rarely brought together. First, action: new Piccadilly line signalling in London, the telephone number of a local policeman, clean streets; things that run well, politicians who don’t always blame someone else. But we also want something larger, which addresses our longer lives, touching on mental health and loneliness, and on why our lives so often feel less than we imagined. We don’t want politicians talking in highfalutin language; we want a sense of the changes they would bring.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

We want to be helped to love our neighbourhood – but in another shyer and less political way, we would like to be better at loving our neighbours. 

This piece is part of our “What we want” series. Read the rest of the articles here

Topics in this article :

This article appears in the 04 Dec 2019 issue of the New Statesman, What we want