England & Wales, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland Personal and organisational development

Summer 2023 reading list from LGIU’s Chief Exec


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

As part of an annual tradition, LGIU’s Chief Executive, Jonathan Carr-West shares the list of books he is aspiring to read over his August holiday break – maybe you can find your next great read too…

Summer reading and pondering this year is driven by LGIU@40, our new project about the future of local government.

That project will be engaging with some of the pressing challenges local government faces:

  1. Finance
  2. Relations with central government
  3. Service demand, and more.

Some of these challenges pose an existential threat to local government as we know it.

But we also want to make a positive case, an argument for all the things local government can do and all the things it could do if we would only let it. You can’t have growth unless it is seeded locally, you can’t increase productivity without local skills development, you can’t make public services work without joining them up at a local level, you can’t tackle a climate crisis without local adaptation, and you can’t reset democracy without building on local bonds of community and civility.

This thinking evolves from a talk I sometimes give called (only half-jokingly) ‘how councils can save the world‘. As part of LGIU@40, I have interviewed over 50 leaders and Chief Execs in England, Scotland and Australia, asking them about how we can unleash the potential of local government.

One theme that has emerged strongly is concern about the way in which politics has changed in recent years and the impact this has on democracy. Public trust in institutions is declining, we see increasing levels of polarisation, misinformation and incivility within our politics. Local government cannot stand apart from these phenomena, or from the cultural economic and technological forces that drive them. Local leaders around the world find themselves wrestling with these problems but they are also leading the sort of community engagement that fights back against them.

As a result, my summer reading list for this year delves into these challenges in order to understand them better and to try and see where local government can be part of our response to them.

Summer reading list:

1. Going Mainstream by Julie Ebner

Looking at how ideas that would, until recently, have belonged to the radical fringes are becoming part of mainstream politics.

2. After the Fall by Ben Rhodes

Obama’s former aide looks at the rise of authoritarian regimes around the world.

3. Failures of State by George Arbuthnot and Jonathan Calvert

The pandemic revealed many of the limitations of central government and the places where local administrations could do better.

4. How Civil Wars Start by Barbara F Walter

What are the early warning signs of civil conflict and how many of them do we see in our politics?

5. Politics: A Survivors Guide by Rafael Behr

An old friend of LGIU looks at how we can stay positively engaged in the face of dysfunctional politics.

There’s a slightly dystopian feel to all this which may not sit entirely well with a holiday vibe. None of these books are about local government as such, but they are about the forces that shape the social and political context within which local government operates. Mark Twain once said that “to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail” and I’m conscious that to a man who runs a local government think tank, local government can look like the answer to all our problems.

But if we want to rebuild trust in politics, if we want to have better, less adversarial conversations about how we face the complex challenges of the 21st century, then it makes sense to start locally where institutions are closer to communities, where listening can be demonstrated and collaboration nurtured.

More on all this after the summer…

Of course, there should also be a chance over summer to enjoy some good fiction as well. Here are the ones on my list:

  • The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrel
  • 10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World by Elif Shafak
  • Lessons by Ian McEwan 

Happy reading and happy summer holidays to our UK and Irish readers!

Do you have reading recommendations for your local government colleagues?

Drop us a line here and we’ll share our collected reading list with everyone!


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