Monday, June 15, 2009

Back to Reality

It has been a bit of a fortnight. An unexpected election. An MBE. A major development at work to steer through. How do I feel? Dazed, if I am honest. And daunted by the weight of what I have taken on.

I have spent some of the last week - the bit in which I wasn't working furiously - starting to re-order my life so that I can not only be an effective CEO, father, husband and Trustee but also a first-class County Councillor.

This has meant talking to my colleagues and trustees who, bless them, are incredibly supportive, my family, from whom I will be asking for further ladle-fulls of forebearance and one or two Councillor colleagues who will, I have no doubt, be wondering why I don't spend all my time on council business.

Because since being elected I have found that hardly anyone elected as a County Councillor has a job. Unless it is being a District Councillor, or "twin tracker" as they are called. Added together, this makes full time local politics a viable way of life for many people who stand for election, particularly those with existing pensions.

Not for me of course, or many people under the age of 50. I have to do everything for the Council in, on average about 12-15 hours per week. This means I have to prioritize. It also signals I can't get over-involved in the politics of the county council. Which, from what I have seen, might be a good thing.

For what I have noticed (perhaps these things are clearer when you are new) is that many aspects of the Council's modus-operandi are fairly anachronistic when you look at what we know about what makes for organisational success. Take diversity as an example. Its members (elected Councillors) are drawn almost exclusively from the over 50s. Most are male, most middle-class and white. Young people under 30 are invisible as are black people. While a cross section of part of Suffolk, the full chamber in no way reflects its diversity.

Related to this is the old-fashionedness of much of its political life. The Council is,I think most people would find, over-politicised. Even fairly pragmatic issues can end up dividing along party lines. A kind of mini-Westminster feeling. While, of course, we need clear parties and programmes, we also need a sense of reality too. This is not Government and we are not, thank-goodness, MPs.

Indeed it was the whipping system in the Council which brought about the policy of closing our middle school system, the unpopular policy against which contributed to mt election by people who normally vote Tory. For despite about 90% opposition locally, our former Tory Councillor voted for closure and paid, ultimately, with his seat. People just didn't get it. Their Councillor was there for them - wasn't he? Well no, he was there for his party.

I say this not to make a political shot - I expect the same from whichever party is in power (though again `in power' over-states the real situation). It is to say that, locally and probably nationally too, we need a politics that goes beyond party. Elected people need, as in the US, to be locally accountable as well as answerable to their party. People who vote for us need to know we will, in the final analysis, put them first.

Now that I am elected, my mission is to be a first class Councillor, not a local politician focused on the machinations of the council. I aim to be seen on the streets of Hardwick more than in the steel-and-glass of Endevour House, the council's glamorous HQ. People's faith in our system and our elected representatives is at an all-time low. If I can do anything at the small-time level at which I operate, to restore people's belief in the system, I will consider myself a success.

1 comment:

CamKC said...

Hello CDP.

I'm enjoying your comprehensive guide to social enterprise:

"Your chance to change the world"

and have asked Cambridge County Council to buy it for the public library so it can have wider availability to socially-minded poor people, like myself.

Its good, and very well written by someone who's clearly "been there".

Congratulations on your election.

Can you clarify whether this is a victory for democracy?

You say the Executive pushed through a policy that was unpopular with the electorate so the electorate ejected the previous Councillor.

But will the policy still go ahead, despite the fact that the people have shown their dislike of it?

If it does go ahead, then I think this may be a classic example of

"2 cheers for democracy"

(rather than the full endorsement of 3 cheers) where the Executive's fear of what they believe would be "mob rule" means that the populace cannot expect to be asked how they feel on most things, as they would, for instance, bring back the death penalty.

So democracy is fine - we're all glad you got in - but in terms of actually doing anything more than registering a protest, if the underlying policy is not changed in the face of what these elections were trying to communicate, then the whole thing does look a little disconnected.

What do you think?

Incidentally, a while ago I left a message at your other website through the "Contact Craig" link - although sometimes my mobile broadband fails to effect the "send".

Thanks for the book - it's a brilliant romp across an incredibly wide range of very pertinent issues.