Written by Dr Paul Overend
Across the world there has been a growing interest in the possibilities of New Municipalism in the 21st century, with a growing network of progressive (founded in Barcelona En Comú in 2017).
This interest in New Municipalism emerges from reflections on how the city can evolve from being a place of protest and resistance against neoliberal capitalism, as was seen in the ‘Occupy’ movement that followed the 2007-8 economic crash, to develop greater self-organization and resilience to market vulnerabilities. (See David Harvey, (2012); Steve Rushton (Ed), (2018).) Informed and influenced by the work of a range of political and social theorists from Peter Kropotkin (Mutual Aid, 1902) to Murray Bookchin (, 1991), New Municipalism explores feminising politics, participatory democracy and participatory budgeting, while incorporating other progressive concerns, such as employment practices and environmentalism.
In the UK there has been a desire to shift power from an overly-centralised state. In 1997, the UK government signed the, gave powers to local authorities to promote economic, social and environmental well-being within their boundaries, while extending the possibility of locally elected mayors. (adopted by the Council of Europe in 1985, and in force from 1988) and the
In Scotland, Green MSP Andy Wightman's 2014 report ‘A’ explored revitalising local government in Scotland. And in 2022, a Labour Commission on the UK Future, chaired by Gordon Brown, produced a report ‘ ’ which commends further devolution in the UK (among other reforms, such as the House of Lords) incorporating a democratic principal of subsidiarity. If adopted by the next government, this will offer further opportunities for local politics.
Municipal socialism is not new in the UK: It was variously seen in the Sheffield City Council led by David Blunkett in the 1980s, and the Greater London Council (GLC). (The treasurer of the GLC at one time was John McDonnell, later the Labour shadow chancellor of Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour). New Municipalism differs, in seeking greater democratic participation, for example, but with a wider range of community ownership explored, though not excluding in-house Council ownership.
A good example of what can be achieved can be seen from the so called ‘Preston Model’ of Community Wealth Building. (See Matthew Brown and Rhian E. Jones, Paint Your Town Red’ (2021) and ) Preston council draws on work on Community Wealth Building by Community Wealth Building involves ideas of local and progressive procurement policies, including fair employment, support of co-operatives and social enterprises, and insourcing (with council ownership), for example, initially led by existing local Anchor Institutions’ procurement policies.
The success in reinvesting into the local economy and improving employment opportunities and pay, and bringing about social benefits, shows what can be done by refiguring the local economy, rather than being dependent on inward investment, by economically ‘extractive’ companies. Wales and Scotland have incorporated some ideas of community wealth building in national politics. And Jamie Driscoll, for example, seeks to incorporate such a model for his mayoral candidacy manifesto.
The renewal of local government and increasing subsidiarity give cause for hope for a Green Left municipalist movement renewing politics and local economics from the grass roots. It is likely that the current Parliamentary Labour Party will still seek to retain centralised party control (so Jamie Driscoll has been blocked from being the Labour mayoral candidate, for example). The Green Party has been more successful in local politics, with the election of councillors more likely than the election of MPs, given the given current FPTP electoral system.
Municipalism works by building consensual politics across the political
parties, and with local institutions and social enterprises, and the local
public and community interest groups. The Green Party might be well placed to
leaverage political opinion in municipal councils and communities, working with
other seeking to advance a green left approach.
Dr Paul Overend has been a priest and educator, most recently working in Lincoln. He is a member of the Green Party of England and Wales, and a new supporter of Green Left, as well as being a member of the Faithworkers Branch of Unite. Having moved to Norwich, he is currently seeking secular work.