England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance



In June LGiU spent the week in Paris: we took part in a conference as part of our RAINGAIN project, we held some meetings and we ran an event comparing the debate around devolution and local democracy on both sides of the Channel, writes LGiU Chief Executive Jonathan Carr-West.

Throughout the week we stayed at a very pleasant hotel on the Rue de Charonne and we held our events in an inspiring co-working space just around the corner.

On Friday night, a bit further up the Rue de Charonne, 18 people were murdered at the Belle Equipe Brasserie: gunned down as they enjoyed a night out. They were amongst the 129 victims at six sites across Paris.

And of course this is just the latest in a sequence of violence that has seen, in the last few weeks alone, bombs exploding on the streets of Ankara and Beirut and in the skies above Egypt.

We really liked that part of Paris, east of the Marais and North of Bastille. It’s a bit like where we are based in Kings Cross, vibrant, increasingly fashionable but still a bit rough around the edges, full of people of all types from all around the world.

It’s very hard to make sense of what happened on Friday. But I have been reflecting on why we were in Paris in the first place. LGIU’s charitable objective – and the mission that informs all our work – is to strengthen local democracy. Why do we do that? Democracy is not just a mechanism for making decisions; it’s a way of giving practical expression to a set of values, a way of hardwiring them into the working of society.

Democracy holds that every voice and by extension every person has equal value. It holds that value emerges from debated difference. Most of all democracy requires that we agree to differ.

The gunmen who burst into the Belle Equipe did not agree to differ.

We are blessed to live in a society in which the web and weft of everyday life: the cleaning of our streets, the care of our elderly, the education of our children are institutionally rooted in these democratic values.

Much thought will be given in the weeks to come about how to respond to events in Paris, but for those of us in local government, it’s worth remembering that even the most routine functions of our democratic institutions are a way of living out the values of difference, dialogue and democracy. They are in and of themselves tiny acts of everyday solidarity with dead of the Rue de Charonne.