I'm glad to see that Nick Booth continues to expand the coverage offered by Podnosh, the Birmingham-based channel offering - as I wrote earlier - online recordings of local conversations and activities. Nick reports in his blog:
David Cameron was in Birmingham again today - to give a Chamberlain Lecture on how he sees the relationship between government and communities.
In fact the leader of the opposition was in my own neighbourhood Balsall Heath, an area he admires for the extent to which citizens and volunteers have taken control of their own streets. The Grassroots Channel programme I am the grass now reported on how people here would prefer to volunteer to keep their police stations open rather than leave a vacuum in their streets.
The truth is that Balsall Heath's revival has been despite government, rather than because of it, and Mr Cameron belives there is much to learn from the people and the streets of this vibrant (yes it is fab) multi-culturural community. So where does that leave someone who wants to lead a Conservative government? Confused or clear about how government can get out of the way and let people make good choices?
You can find out here. Listen to his speech by clicking on this link, read the speech by clicking here and find out what the good people of Balsall Heath had to ask David Cameron by clicking here.
Podnosh offers a full recording of the lecture, and of the question and answer session afterwards. Cameron was talking about the need to rebuild social as well as economic well-being, and as the BBC reported wants to put the voluntary sector and local democracy "at the heart of a drive to restore local pride and give communities more control."
Podnosh works with the Birmingham Community Empowerment Network, and is a great (and relatively rare) example of how local community and voluntary organisations can develop their own voice online.
However a quick Google showed that (as usual) it is a mistake to believe "community" has one voice. Indymedia Birmingham has a highly sceptical report of Cameron's previous visit to Balsall Heath in January in the wake of tornado damage. They felt it was all a photo-op for Cameron to be filmed if not by national media at least his in-house team of publicists. They also take a pop at the local community organisation, the Balsall Heath Forum.
Whilst voluntary organisations like the Balsall Heath Forum have eulogised Cameron’s Tory Party’s newly found interest in the voluntary sector, it is also worth pointing out the role the Forum appointed for itself as a broker between local people and the City Council after the Tornado. Some have even gone as far as to say the Forum has effectively hijacked much of the initial grassroots interest in self- recovery for its own ends. Last year, the Forum hosted a series of events led by Dick Atkinson to solicit views from local people and traders about redeveloping the area in a focus group, ‘fantasy re-development’ scenario. Atkinson offered to collate and process ideas generated into a report to hand to the Council.
Atkinson’s report, however, differed substantially from the original ideas expressed by local people so much so that many people commented that his report reflected his own plans for the area and that of the Forum over local grassroots plans. A glaring omission in the report was a suggestion by local people to mobilise and demonstrate about the Council’s negligence over asbestos removal and other issues.
I don't know the ins and outs of the Balsall Heath community politics, but it seems wholly good for local democracy that different views of local and national affairs are emerging in media that are under local control. Every blogger - and indymedia channel - needs an audience, and there's nothing like a bit of argument to get people involved.