Communities and majorities

Black Hearts in Battersea
Tesco Express as well, nowadays. Image via Wikipedia

Zoe Williams has written a Guardian piece about a power imbalance between rich supermarkets and community groups opposed to them opening up.

There’s nothing particularly new in it – Tesco bad, Licensing Act, powerless councils, etc. – but one line struck me. In answer to the rhetorical challenge “well, if people don’t want Tesco, they won’t shop there”, Williams says:

communities aren’t about majorities

Hmm. Make the functionally equivalent statement “a minority with strong opinions should be able to stop what they want” and it doesn’t look so cosy.

“Communities aren’t about majorities” is true on the level of personal affection and commitment – but local decision-making is not about affection, it’s about the rule of law, and that means accountability both to law and democratic majorities. At the moment, I would say that local decisions are too far away from democratic majorities rather than too close.

The fear of the “campaigners” and the “usual suspects” pushes councils away from engagement and into technocracy. The task is to find ways of engaging that don’t allow minorities with strong preferences to shout down majorities with mild preferences.

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Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.