I always struggle when local Councillors say to me that they are ‘not political’. For me politics is part of everyday life as well as life in local government. To some extent I cannot see that we can operate without it and perhaps it’s like the cod liver oil mother used to give me – it’s not very tasty but good for you.
Without decision makers who are motivated, steeped or just inclined to make choices about how we ration public goods based upon political values or beliefs, it would be impossible to make the tough decisions. So, as far as I am co concerned, local politics (and I include in that party politics as much as the power used by local action groups and activists to persuade and nudge for a decision that accords with their world view) helps us even if we don’t always like it. Perhaps of greater curiosity is why local Councillors and even some officials so readily dismiss the place of politics.
From my own experience it is often an unwillingness to accept that managing public services and budgets is difficult and calls for conviction, confidence and a willingness to take a risk. Having a belief in something or a conviction about how a place and its people should be governed is now less valued than data or empirical studies which are purported to have all the answers. There is possibly a link between extolling beliefs of a political nature with the fear some have of acknowledging the place of religious faith that individuals often hold true but keep to themselves for fear of rejection.
This unwillingness to accept or acknowledge the place of politics prompts me to think that we need to do more to teach, educate and celebrate the importance of the political and differences with our communities and public servants. Commonly, when politics is discussed it is perceived as a negative or worthless experience. We should strive to change this – through education at schools, induction and training programmes at the work place and with our elected officials on a daily basis. Not everyone is interested in politics, but we all need to surely acknowledge that it has an important place in how we govern communities and make decisions about the places people inhabit and the things that they experience.
I realise we can often feel let down by what appear as foolish or poorly motivated decisions by our politicians, but I am advocating that without the politics, our society, communities and culture are poorer and weaker. So, if you work as a teacher, manage a public service or are yourself an elected representative – make it your business to champion the good of local politics and what benefits it can bring to making the best of what we have.
Philip’s doctorate from the University of Aston was on the role of local authority officials as ‘makers of democracy’. His career has given him extensive experience of working with elected representatives in local government as a Solicitor. He is an INLOGOV Associate Member and contributes to its Management Development programmes.