In my ward there are several thriving residents association (rather awkwardly a couple are having their AGMs at he same time this evening.) In a piece I wrote a few days ago for hfconservatives.com about our local blogosphere I was struck that typically residents groups in my borough have a strong internet presence. It might not have a fully fledged blog but is usually a well designed website that is regularly updated – for instance including pdfs of their newsletters.
This must increase the clout of residents association – although the more important with the anticipated return of localism to the planning system. Even a strong residents association might have a couple of hundred members of whom perhaps 50 will come along to events. Often with the tenants associations on estates the figures will be lower. There is often a class divide in "community engagement". It is easier to get a Neighbourhood Watch going on a terraced street than a tower block.
These residents gathering are certainly something that a sensible councillor will take notice of – while also reflecting that the views expressed might or might not be representative of the other 8,000 residents in the ward. But the internet means that more residents will see what these associations are saying. They have a "reach" beyond their active and paper membership. It also means that councillors, swamped with paper, who wanted to check an issue raised in the newsletter from one of these groups from a couple of months buried deep somewhere, can find it easily on their website.
Why do the middle class residents associations get a higher turnout than the tenants associations on Council estates? Perhaps because the former tend to find a nicer venue than some grimy tenants hall, it could be that the former tend to offer a glass of wine afterwards. But I think it is because the latter group have given up on the system. They think there is no point in proposing improvements because nobody will listen. Often they are actually nervous of making complaints in case the housing officers will penalise them in some way – there is a nasty whiff of the old Soviet Union about it.