Monday, 14 February 2011

We know where we live

Most of us have a very clear idea of where we live and a pretty good idea of exactly where the boundaries of our 'ville' lie. Far, far fewer of us have a clue as to our ward boundary, let alone parliamentary constituency boundary, and I'll guess anyone who knows where the European constituency begins and ends is either an MEP or their agent. Why is this important?

Who hasn't, as a child, listed out their hierarchy of belonging? I've still got an atlas my father gave me when I was eight or nine in which I've inscribed not only my house number and street but town, county, England, Britain, United Kingdom, World, Solar System, Universe, and Galaxy. I got stuck at galaxy. Well, one would at nine. 

Identification with a locality at the lowest 'leet' or 'moot' level - parish, ville, commune, hundred, whatever - is a natural human behaviour, hard-wired. It's the first tier at which we recognise our part in a communal identity and therefore the first tier at which we recognise the democratic legitimacy of representative and decision-making bodies. Above it may come town, borough, or county. If democratic or other groups are organised in areas congruent with a commonly recognised boundary, participation is many times greater. One of the problems with a Localist future is that 'official' areas are frequently out of tune with those that inhabitants recognise. 

What's also astonishing, in the complete absence of any common process to define or agree boundaries, is the way in which such lower tier areas rarely overlap by more (in London) than a street or so; there's some process at work here, a remarkable consensus, that needs neither officialdom nor cartographers to define, as to where our boundaries with our neighbours lie.

Take Brockley here in London, an area with which I'm reasonably familiar. You may think that the SE4 Brockley postcode describes the boundaries - but oh, no. Brockleyites are quite definite that whole chunks of SE4 are outside Brockley, and equally definite that bits of SE14 - New Cross - are within it. Neither does the council ward called Brockley correspond with the area popularly recognised. The blog Brockley Central had a go last year at drawing the boundary - map reproduced below. The 94 comments to the post are worth reading. With the exception of a few aggrieved SE4 postcode holders who would dearly like to be inside the pale, most are in agreement with the line.

In contrast, the ward is much bigger - see HERE - and this is pretty universal here in London. I'll call the popular self-defined area the Natural Ward and the other the Official Ward. It's the result of the government setting an Electoral Quota that's larger than people feel naturally happy with. Now here's a difficult concept to get hold of (if you're the government). Whilst I'm passionate about EQs for parliamentary seats being equal - and ideally they should be within +/- 3% but I can live with +/- 5% - the same logic doesn't necessarily apply at the level of the Natural Ward. French communes vary hugely in size, from a few hundred electors to several thousands, and this is right, because most of the business of the commune is internal, so relative size doesn't matter. The only equalising that needs to be done is if representatives from the Natural Wards sit on a larger constituent assembly, at the borough, town or county level. Here their voting power must be governed to keep it relative to the number of electors. This is not hard to do, and should certainly not distort the most important boundaries of the Natural Ward to fit a convenient official model. 

This is all basic Localist stuff, but until the government grasps it, and resources the necessary local government changes required to reflect it, we'll get nowhere fast.   

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know where I live. I live 20 miles from a small village (hamlet) which bears my family surname. Its borne my name for nearly a thousand years - and we get a mention directly in the Domesday book.

I know where I live and I know my English heritage. What's more, I like to stick this fact right up the snoot of any prod-nose leftie who talks to me about this subject. And I am proud of it.

Coney Island