Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The job of an opposition is to....well oppose

It can be grim in the Council Chamber.There has always been a fanciful notion tthat it's best not to bring politics into local politics.
The current(although maybe not for much longer) leader of Northampton Borough Council cewrtainly does not like 'politics'.He refused to attend a meeting in the Guildhall that was called to discuss Sixfields and the Market Square and other issues because he said that it was'political'.
He then decided that complaints against him storing his untaxed car in the Guildhall car park was trivial and 'political'-the complaint initiated by a couple of us who were not 'bona fide' and indeed were'political'.
Leaving aside the fact that Tony Woods is the leader of a Liberal Democrat administration and last time I looked the Liberal Democrats claim to be a 'political' partyit is all rather strange.
Pete Seeger once said that everything is political-try singing the wrong hymn in the wrong church or try to persuade a child to eat his greens!

Nursery rhymes were often filled with political comment,'Mary Mary quite contrary' was an allegory about Mary Tudor and her attempt to rstore Catholicism just as 'Little Jack Horner' was a rhyme about her father Henry's closures of the monestries.
And if your ever tempted to croon the old ballad 'My bonnie Moorhen' remember your campaigning for the Jacobite cause.

Persuasion, discussion, arguement are all political processes that need to take place inorder to demonstrate that places like local councils are not monolithic bastions of little grey people who all agree with the supreme being in control.
The most important function therefore of the opposition,whether within the ruling administration or outside it is to test the executive,to challenge their ideas and to question their decisions.
As a callow young Labour councillor I was first an administration, but after one term became part of an opposition and remained that for many years.
With large Tory majorities we recognised that we had few opportunities to present an alternative view that the public might get to hear about.The press rarely if ever attended committee meetings and even Council meetings were sparsely attended.
But every six weeks or so the full Council meeting was the public platform that an effective opposition could use creatively.
In those far off days we had 'shadow' chairs of each committee and it was the job of the shadow to know their brief and to try and put pressure on the chair.It was especially true at budget time when Geoff Howes had gone through every budget and ensured that no stone was left unturned.
For many years I was shadow leisure spokesman and every meeting I relished roughing up dear old Fred Evans-who once his chief officer brief was used up he was on his own!
Council meetings are where the opposition can do the job it is supposed to do.Now I know the smaller the group the harder being effective can be,but Tony Clarke as a group of one has been more effective than all the others put together.
On Monday however the depths were reached.There are only five Labour members and on that day only two were present! The Leader was away, his deputy was away and the group whip was absent too!
Bad planning perhaps-maybe they were all at the TUC-oh no, they couldn't have been, for Councillor Tess Scott had agreed to second a motion put forward by a Liberal PPC attacking the local rail unions for their actions the previous Sunday.
Now apart from the fact they got the union wrong, they thought it was RMT when in fact it was ASLEF, and apart from the fact that it was none of the business of the local authority,and apart from the fact Cllr Scott hadn't discussed it with her colleagues it was all a bit tragic.
Luckily for Councillor Scott she fell ill at about 4l15pm that afternoon and was unable to second the Liberal's opportunistic motion.

But then I'm sure she will be able to explain her political rationale to her other group members at their next meeting to discuss tactics and I'm sure Keith Davies will be encouraged by Tess's political initiative,he was after all a staunch union activist in another rail union for many years(TSSA)
I'm sure also that when the crafty political brain that Tess so obviously has she will enjoy explaining her stance to Comrade Loakes and Brother Miliband when the Foreign Secretary addresses the assembled multitude(by invitation only) of Northampton South Labour Party at the Ex-servicemens Club in Sheep Street this Thursday. Perhaps Milipede will bring back tales of fraternal discussions from the TUC to regale the assembled brothers and sisters.

PS. When Loakes approaches ASLEF for an election bung will he take Tess with him as his political advisor?
PSS Is ASLEF still affiliated to the now suspended Northampton South CLP?


  1. Hi John,
    You neglected to mention the time my friend... I was going to suggest you and Councillor Clarke go for a few pints while I gatecrash!!!
    Bet you never thought I'd be saying that hey? Though to be fair I feel slightly like a confused virgin in as much as I am a Lib Dem card carrying member who used to be a Tory and is good friends with two ex Labour independents... Sometimes I dunno if I am coming or going!!
    Anyways, hope you are okay? Miss seeing you at the Council meetings, though I dunno if I could handle "dagger looks" which would undoubtable head your way! But hey, you know I have your back right?

  2. Dont you think its completely petty hounding this Woods guy about this minor parking misdeameanor - which most of us would totally take forgranted? I just heard it on the BBC news, and frankly thought you come across as a bit of a pillock. So typical of labour nowadays and its pointless "calling" and not getting head down and improve the country.

    How about the councils doing their job and improve efficencies and stop wasting time on such stupid things.

  3. If you heard what they (Clarke and Dickie, among others) had been saying; apparently it was not about the car. It was how he handled the matter.

    Technically I guess they have a slight point, it could have been dealt with much sooner and need not have gone as far as it did. Only Woods himself will be able to explain why he did not take that road open to him, and I wish you good luck with getting that information out of him!

    And last time I checked both John Dickie and Tony Clarke are no longer Labour members, both doing distinctly better without the party than the party are without them!

    As I see it, (and I didn't know; until told ~ that Dickie had spoken to Woods first) Dickie was quiet right to say something about the car, not because "putting it there and forgetting to get it sorted" was the problem... the "I'm going to leave it there now, because I can" is the problem!

  4. Gee, E minus for spelling Mr D. English is the world's most used and abused language and reading this blog has made up my mind to send you Harold Evan's indispensable Essential English. Post me your address to