Monday 24 November 2014

The Revelations of Consultation

The lack of real consultation in modern politics is one thing I truly despise. However, consultation is never predictable, often very informative and sometimes throws light on a subject from a different angle. This is a brief summary of the first political consultation I have made, and the enlightenment it provided.

As a member of a community council, Llanelli Rural Council, I have given support, on a case by case basis,to  one of the Council's  2 major political groups. This one is a formal coalition between Plaid Cymru and the Affiliated Independents, the closet Tory group who at County Level used to keep Meryl Gravell in power. The other group, the Labour party, have never constructively sought my opinon or support although they occasionally ask me if i'm supporting the other group without making any effort to persuade me of their noble intent on the particular subject concerned.

There has been over the years a ding dong between the 2 groups. There are 21 council members,  and the recent situation of the Plaid/Indy [Closet Tory] leadership was initiated when 2 labour councillors, lets call them X and Y , personal friends, defected to the Closet tories from Labour after a bust up which included accusations of theft against a relative of X by a senior labour councillor. After the 2012 Council elections Labour had control {lab 11 plaid/indy 9 and me}. The defection of X and Y reversed the situation giving the Affiliated independents and Plaid Coalition control.

Just recently, X and Y had a major disagreement, apparently after X had spread a rumour about a relative of Y. The 2 feuding Councillors had some sort of physical fight in a council Indy/Plaid group pre-meeting, and following this Y returned to the Labour Party. Numbers now were Labour 10, Plaid/Indy 10 and me.

Subsequently a complaint of assault was made to the police and the Leader of the Council made a statement to the police about the incident which he had witnessed. No charges followed.  However,Councillor X and other members of the Affiliated Independents severely criticised their group leader for giving this statement .The leader then resigned from the group, to become an unaffiliated independent within the Rural Council.   A new election of Council Leader was now required.

Talking things through with some one else usually helps anyone with a problem. My consultation with my supporters and ordinary voters did help me and not only with this problem. After 2 or 3 phone calls I realised that it was going to be a slow process. Mainly my fault, as it turned out. Few people knew much about the Rural Council, its composition and functions. I should be putting this information out to everyone. They knew even less about the political composition. In my Ward at the last election 3 political groups, People first, Plaid Cymru and Labour were neck and neck with the affiliated Independents a poor 4th. We ended up with one Labour and one People First  as our 2 County Councillors and One Labour, one People First and 2 Plaid as our 4 Community members.

The 2 candidates for Council Leader were a Meryl Independent, the new coalition group leader and the Labour Group leader. The former was known to a few of my voters as they have a taxi/bus business but the labour Councillor, from a distant ward was not so well known . From my point of view, I 'd known  the Independent candidate for longer, they were socially more pleasant, but a right wing person who had asked me to "go easy" with one of their friends, a County Executive board  member whose lack of action in dealing with the local sewage pollution I didn't approve of. I didn't take the advice but was disturbed that it was offered. The Labour candidate appears to be a party loyalist without strong personal opinions, for example, defending the Labour Welsh Government approval for downgrading of our local hospital to me using the glass "half full" rather than "half empty" analogy. I suspect that if our government was of a different colour, this person's opinion would change also, to match the party line.

I soon wished I had provided those I consulted with a bulky background document. My responses included the shock of Plaid supporters that their members were in coalition with Meryl's Indys. Clearly this does not feature in the local Plaid literature. Several people were most shocked  by the fight and some suggested both X and Y should resign immediately.  Some had heard of the fight and wanted to know if Y's fingers really had been broken? { I didn't think so } Others were disturbed by the perceived disloyalty of X and their supporters in forcing the resignation of the Leader.

In all honesty, I had been tempted to support one of the candidates as a "least worst" option, someone I could work with. However, the more people I consulted, the more searching questions about the circumstances I received. Talking about it changed my view. Not only was it clear to most that neither side deserved my support, with some people quite seriously concerned about the moral standards of their local elected members. I also realised that perhaps I was being sucked into a political bubble. I was surprised but not deeply shocked that X and Y had had a violent disagreement. My voters were more shocked than surprised. Subsequent developments led them to question the integrity  of the council in general. I had, perhaps, hoped that local community Councillors were not so affected by the current cynicism and distrust in more prominent politicians. In fact, familiarity with the characters was producing  not sympathy, but severe condemnation.

Being committed to consult, by Bell's principles, is not only a way to make decisions informed by your electorate, but also ,in this case, a window into how people really regard their politicians. It also showed me the lack of information available to the public about the political composition of their councils. It even informed me that few of my constituents didn't actually  know who were their ward Councillors, I suppose I was lucky no-one asked me for I.D.!

I abstained, but gained a great deal of insight getting to that decision.

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