Sunday, April 22, 2007

Local Politics

I wanted to raise several points about local politics:

First of all, what is the role of the councillor? Is it worthy of notice? I think that if we consider some of the key areas of concern for Muslims as educational underachievement, youth crime, ‘community cohesion’ etc. then it is quite clear that in order to make an impact on these issues one needs some kind of local focus. For example, one can ask national government to put in league tables so that improvements can be measured, but to actually make those improvements, it requires a closer level of scrutiny at the local level. This is where the local councillor comes in. It seems to me that one function that the local councillor should fulfil is scrutiny, in an institutionalised, professional and preferably depoliticised kind of way whether this be in relation to quality of service provision or distribution of resources. So I think it is important to have at least five to ten councillors to whom one could look for some kind of competent leadership at the local level. I don’t know if it is the case at present or not.

Secondly, one aspect that emerges from our current concerns around engagement is how much can we progress the local agenda without participating in local politics. Many of us have historically avoided the local political parties because of the kinds of people inside them, this looks like it could be changing but I could provide a whole series of cross-party examples of people who really should never have been councillors. I think that there is a limit to how much one can affect the local agenda without engaging with the local political process, and that limit severely damages the prospect of success. For the reasons stated in the previous point, some public scrutiny is required.

Thirdly, people could suggest that if we are to engage in the political process, then which party should we choose? I think this question is a lot easier to answer than it used to be. Nowadays, there are less differences between the parties and the differences at a local level tend to focus more around personalities rather than ideologies. The structure of the political parties also suggests that they are presently functioning as quasi-public sector type organisations, which means that they are just another function of local (but state-funded) society that requires dialoguing with. The choice of party could depend on ward and company.

Fourthly, we have to consider the changing policy agenda which is moving so much more towards the local. The role of the councillor within this transformation will become more relevant and the department for communities and local government has recently set up a councillors commission to look into the issues. Bradfordians will be pleased to note that Margaret Eaton is on the commission.

What all this is suggesting is that we need to think about the kinds of candidates that are councillors at present. And no, I have no intention of becoming a councillor, the Monster Raving Loony Party does not as far as I know have a Bradford branch.