Community… what community?

June 1, 2018

The most overworked term in the English language is currently ‘the community’. Everything is done for the ‘good of the community’. The ‘community’ usually means an incredibly small group of people that seek justification for their proposals, views or actions by suggesting that it is generally held to be good by some notional group representing the majority view. I would beg to suggest that this is almost always a fallacy.


What is ‘the community’? Where does it start and where does it end? What are the membership criteria for this group? How are the opinions of this group gathered and represented? Am I in it? Are you?


Politicians are big fans of ‘the community’; apparently they have talked to ‘the community’ and are therefore well qualified to voice their opinions.


Perhaps the best representation of ‘the community’ is local government. At least they have to hold themselves up for public scrutiny every now and then. However, the turnout at the last local elections was 36%, so two thirds of the ‘community’ did not express their opinion. And, of course, since the candidate is selected on the grounds of the most votes received, the number of people backing this view will be much less than 36%. In addition, this only represents the views of those registered to vote.


The Electoral Commission tells us that in 2012 a total of 15.93 million people were registered to vote in the English local elections and of these, 31.1% or 4.95 million voted in the local elections. The Office for National Statistics estimated that UK population in 2012 was 63.7 million. Incidentally do you know the eligibility rules for voting in local elections? I’d like to bet that few of you would have guessed all these:

  • a British citizen living in the UK

  • a qualifying Commonwealth citizen living in the UK

  • a citizen of the Irish Republic living in the UK

  • a European Union citizen living in the UK

  • registered to vote as a Crown Servant

  • registered to vote as a service voter


This is the best representation of ‘the community’. You can justifiably say that this is our fault. We have the right to vote and if we choose not to exercise our right then we cannot then complain that it is unrepresentative.


So if this is the best representation of the ‘community’, what about those claiming to represent the views without having been subject to scrutiny? You know the cases I mean? Let me give you a typical example.


‘We have saved the library/swimming pool/ theatre for the good of the community.’ Surely, if the ‘community’ had used the facility in the first place then it would not have needed to be saved?  So what they actually mean is that they have saved the facility for the tiny group of activists that they are a part of and, by the way, we’ll have to pay for it.


One ‘community’ which I have thoroughly enjoyed watching to develop and participating has been a lively online group of people involved in the plumbing and heating industry which has formed on Twitter. Like all the best communities, there are no specific requirements to participation except perhaps a robust character, able to withstand a consistently high level of banter. Many installers have enjoyed participating in the community, exchanging ideas, technical tips and showcasing outstanding work. New relationships have flourished, regardless of geography, jobs have been gained and formal and informal teams assembled.


A community in every sense.

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