Five reasons not to be a councillor
The nomination papers for the forthcoming council elections are due in 4th April. It does feel a bit weird not to be completing the Bickerstaffe Ward 0nes, but the die is cast; I won’t be a councillor after 5th May.
I’ve worked bloody hard in my ward as a councillor, and achieved a lot.
The 50 biggest achievements will be another blogpost (probably at the Bickerstaffe Record) but I’m quite proud of a 300,000 investment in nursery and community facilities, a village school that is burgeoning not declining, 30mph limits on roads where there were none, an HGV ban through the village centre, a popular music festival (though maybe a year off this year), bus services successfully defended and even improved, taking on a big factory over their noise pollution and winning, new bus shelters erected, public housing defended, funding brought in for the footie club, the Parish car park improved, the A577 safety scheme, flooding problems resolved, greenspace defended, a new rail station nearing fruition.
That’s just off the top of my head. There was lot more when I noted it down, road by road, theme by theme.
There’s also plenty of other quiet case work around ‘difficult’ social services which I can’t talk about but where I’ve really made a difference to people’s lives.
Most of all, perhaps, I’m proud of the fact that many of the things above I can’t take sole credit for. They’re often collaborative enterprises, but wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t got stuck in and offered the right support at the right time. I think it’s called community organisation, nowadays, but I just took it as being a councillor.
I’ll miss a lot of this stuff.
So why stop now, many have asked, both locally and nationally.
Here’s five reasons:
1) I want to stay home
I’ve been out 3-6 nights a week, week in, week out, for the last few years. I’ve missed a lot of bedtimes. Now the kids are bigger, I want to be around more for homework, for goalie training, for the craic. My wife wants me back too.
2) I don’t want to become stale
I don’t think councillors should become permanent fixtures, either in their wards or on the Council. We should be encouraging short, high action, productive stints on the frontline, then letting other people have a go. My time has come to move on.
I hope Bickerstaffe stays Labour, and I hope my successor brings new ideas, new energies, new talents.
3) Elected local government is important, but not THAT important
Labour labour parties is pre-occupied with local government, because it’s what people vote on and it’s where you beat the Tories/LibDems. It fits with the national party’s campaigning party identity.
But there’s more to local politics than local government, which after all only controls a small percentage of local spend (and borough councils only a very tiny percentage in two-tier systems).
While many in local Labour parties focus their campaigning solely on local elections, local NHS services are being quietly dismantled under the ‘care’ of non-elected Trust and PCT boards, and the whole Voluntary and Community Sector is being decimated.
So one thing I’ll be throwing my energies into after May 5th is the whole local NHS agenda, and how local groups can work with GP commissioning structures with the aim of retaining and even expanding preventative, holistic services.
That’s not something I can easily do as a local councillor, but it will use much of the same skillset I’ve developed in local elected politics.
I’ll also be doing stuff around legal challenge to Council service decisions which is better done from outside the Council.
In general, I look forward to becoming a free-ranging activist, unconstrained by the necessary niceties and conventions of public office.
4) Local councillors are too big for their boots
Councillors, especially those in senior positions (as I’ve been) tend to be regarded as the local party bosses. They shouldn’t be. This trend has developed because in many areas party infrastructure around policy making have withered in the face of demands from the centre that parties focus on electoral campaigning.
We need to work harder now to establish routes of accountability to an expanding party membership, and to ensure that councillors are given mandates to act on behalf of increasingly representative parties (and local labour movements), not carte blanche to lord it over their branches.
I’m a bureaucrat by nature, and in time I want to play a part in the construction of a ‘wholer’ local party, which focuses its energies not just on local government but on everything that affects our constituents. Now is not the right time for me to do this, as space is needed between my current and future roles in the local party, but the need and opportunity will come soon enough.
5) The Labour party is not the Labour movement
This is connected to 4) above, but deserves special mention as it’s where a lot of my post-councillor energies will be directed.
In West Lancashire, as in many areas, the day-to-day link between the union movement and the Labour party has more or less dissolved. There is no longer a very active Trades Council (well as far as I can see, though some hardy souls have tried to keep it alive), and links are largely limited to some sponsorship of candidates and election campaigns (though I’ve worked at links with the Council trade unions in my time as opposition on the Council).
So in the next few months I’ll be getting back to my union roots, working with trade unionists beyond the local Labour party to re-establish the kind of union organisation now lost to many areas, though with a mind to 21st century conditions.
Workplace organisation and expanded recruitment remains the bedrock of the labour movement, and the best Trades Councils use this as a basis for work on local rights beyond the workplace e.g. the TUC unemployment centres which were a source of hope and solidarity for many under Thatcher.
This is stuff local Labour parties have trouble with both culturally and legally, but which must form part of the integral offer of the labour movement to our working class constituencies and constituents, irrespective of but not unconscious of how class identity and consciousness may differ from class as an objective capital/labour condition.
Formal affiliation to the Labour party should of course be a part of the Trades Council development, but I suspect it will only be a minor aspect for consideration initially, as unions-in-the-community and recruitment capacity is developed to the point where both party and wider movement can engage properly on a clearly mutually beneficial basis.
The local media plan is in there as well, though initially it may be a different development strand.
That’s the plan. If anyone else is thinking of similar stuff around this aspect of labour movement organisation – and in the aftermath of March 26th could there possibly be a better time - I’d be happy to compare notes and look at mutual support.
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