Posts Tagged ‘government’

Why we need Independents on councils

April 16, 2012

John explains why Independents help improve the performance of councils

To get things done by local councils it helps if groups of councillors agree policies and stick together to achieve them.  I do not oppose political parties in local government.  Indeed a council made up entirely of Independents would be disastrous.  But in the same way that a dish often tastes better when seasoned, a council works better when some of its members are outside the party system and retain the right to publicly oppose policies or expose abuses. 

Often Independents can usefully publicise practices engaged in by all parties, such as when they agree the way to allocate allowances to their own party advantage or pay over a part of their publicly funded council allowances to finance political activities.  Political parties also collectively promote a culture of political bickering or grandstanding  which achieves little but wastes precious time and scarce council resources.  A good local example of this is to be found in the so-called Area Committees which are talking shops, usually attended by all local councillors and a handful of regulars, but which cost the ratepayer thousands of pounds a year in hall rentals, amplification charges, officer time etc. 

Local parties are also frequently tied to their national parties and back policies laid down by their national party bosses rather than answering local needs.  For example, City Councillors who have for years defended the party line on centrally imposed house building targets or regional assemblies will not today deny that they were costly mistakes. However, at the time they were adamant in their insistence of their benefits.

Perhaps my strongest objection to parties in local government is the way in which a few powerful party bigwigs control and manipulate the many fellow councillors who are content to be told what to think and how to vote. I call them ‘lobby fodder’.  I left the Lib-Dems in 2006 because they couldn’t tolerate my propensity to speak my mind and to think outside the box and since leaving them I have been able to breathe intellectually and politically.

Of course a lot depends on how skilfully and usefully an Independent councillor uses their ‘freedom’.  For my part I see my role as highlighting issues of public concern in the hope and belief that they will consequently be raised in the order of party priorities.  I do this through the pages of the local and national press (who have published over fifty articles reporting my views since the last election), through private discussions with fellow councillors, away from the whips, and by persuasion in the various committees and forums on which I have a voice.  My greatest concerns have always been on planning issues and I think it fair to say that my voice on the Planning Committee is respected and often heeded by members of all parties.  So it simply isn’t true to say that as an Independent I don’t have influence.

In the meantime the campaign for my re-election goes on and I am pleased to be able to tell you that we are heartened by the response we are getting.