Last week Suffolk County Council voted through its cuts. 1500 jobs are to go but most of the time was taken up with a debate about £175k for lollipop men and women. The Council, in its wisdom, are ceasing their funding for these symbols of community and stability and saying to people that it isn't the state's job to get their kids to school.
For me this is Bad Politics. On the one hand, the Council is trying to engage the public in a conversation about the new contours of responsibility between citizen and state. Let's talk about new approaches is the message. The public come back with 'Sure, but don't cut the funding for road crossing patrols' and the Council, despite thousands of signatures vote them down. All pretty depressing.
What I took from this awful afternoon was two things. One is how the party system is killing local government. Instead of a balanced and measured approach from Councillors that reflects community concern, they all just line up behind their parties and do as they are told. That this will come back and haunt a few of them, sure, but most are in safe seats in a Tory shire. They don't need to listen.
The second is the nature of people in representative roles in local government. The lack of diversity is astonishing. There are no black people in a chamber of 75. Women are fairly thin on the ground. Young people under 40 - hardly any. People in actual paid work - a handful. People with college degrees - perhaps a quarter. People with specialist knowledge - a smattering. This means that officers tend to be the source of most intellectual and managerial drive within the council.
What do we do? I don't know. The party-system means that people who are capable but essentially non-partisan struggle to get onto the council. More independents would be a massive help. So too would be conscious attempts by all parties to find people who are young, non-white and female who can serve. The Council is the only place in my life where, at 41, I feel a bright young thing. That can't be right, surely??