Party Politics - Yawn or Wasteful and Irrelevant?


Hell Hath No Fury ...

Back to "What Happened" page Update July 03 - one calumny withdrawn
Now that you, the electorate, have reduced the LibDems to a rump of 8 on WDBC, they have little to do, it seems, but slag off all the other people that you did elect. Poor losers, or what?

The latest (June 2003) page of the LD web site is an interesting farrago of personal attacks that, I hope, contrast appropriately with the measured approach that I try to bring when commenting on such material. Some of you may say "it isn't worth the bother of commenting", but I disagree for the following reasons:

So here goes ...

You will recall that my comment on the AGM outcome drew a mildly intemperate squawk by email from the LD group leader. Rather then take up my offer of space to give her own account, one of her colleagues has put up a brand new page, linked above. Let's take a look at it in detail:

"Condependents shut out Lib Dem leader" screams the headline. Well, that just ain't true, folks. I have published my recollection of the day's events and have given you a true account, linked above. The most charitable construction I can put on subsequent events is that the message didn't get through to the LD group's leader and that her colleagues are now exploiting the situation for all they are worth. You must think what you will: I have given you the facts as far as I know them. Furthermore, I have offered the LD leader space ... but (as at 28 June 03) had no response to my offer.

So now let's look at their text.
We begin with an attack on the local paper which, in my experience, covers most of the meetings that the public is interested in and generally reports them fairly and accurately. Then there's an astonishing personal attack on the new Mayor, with a link comparing him to a long-dead former Soviet Foreign Minister - an apparatchik of ineffable humourlessness about as far removed from the cheerful, open character of our new Mayor as can be imagined. In any case, what, you may ask, is the relevance of this turgid vituperation to keeping your streets clean and your dustbins emptied?
July 03 Update: You will no longer find the latter attack. Following representations by the leader of the Independent Group to the MP, it has been withdrawn. Quite right, too! The rest of it, however remains. (11 July 03)

Then there's a snide little dig, neatly encapsulated in the phrase "Chair (men)", implying that WDBC has appointed all-male chairmen (not true), another implying that councillors leave important decisions to council officers (also not true, as the pile of my daily envelopes from WDBC visibly attests) and finally one that lays the ground for the forthcoming implication that some of you have elected invisible nonentities to represent you.

The next paragraph is really neat, because it plays back one of my most consistent bleats about "politically controlled" councils, viz that they dish out all the chairmanships to the majority group's members, regardless of experience or ability. This happened in 1995 and you can click here to see how it panned out.

Whether you believe my account, viz that the Independents encouraged the inclusion of the new LD leader and the Conservative group agreed not to oppose her nomination for a vice-chairmanship but that, for whatever reason, she was pre-nominated only for a chairmanship, or whether you believe that we all ganged up to shut her out must be a matter for you. One or other of those accounts has to be "spin". What is undoubtedly true is that she was not considered for a chairmanship; that was quite right, in my view. Here's why:

The LGA issue has other connotations: For all these reasons, it would have been inappropriate to appoint Cllr Mrs Clish-Green to an LGA post now.

You may think that for the LD author of their web page to describe those appointed as "nonentities" is just as inappropriate, savours strongly of sour grapes and augers badly for future co-operation within the council. I shall forbear to comment.

And finally ...
... the "sad footnote" just isn't true, either. What is true is that those appointed were prevented by conflicts of meetings (it happens); it is not true that no apologies were tendered; whether those apologies were recorded, I haven't checked. If not, then I have no doubt that the omission will be corrected when the minutes are considered by the next meeting. Such omissions happen, too, which is why machinery for correcting them exists.


There are some links within the LD page. The first of these, comparing Cllr Peter Hill to the late Mr Molotov speaks for itself of the quality of debate that the author seems to think appropriate for his audience - presumably the electorate of West Devon. Perhaps you should email him with your view, if you have one, of his implied assessment of you, his readers.
NB As I have told you above, this has now been removed from the LD web site (July 2003). It was a pity that it required the intervention of a Member of Parliament to convince the author of its inappropriateness.

The other link is yet another justification of the "Condependent" tag, liberally (ho, hum, was that a pun?) sprinkled through the document. I have dealt often enough with my own position (click here if you want to read it again), but the historical background to the notion of "Independent Groups" deserves a comment to set the LD's diatribe into context.

The LibDems formed the first Political Group at West Devon. It happened at the informal "pre-AGM" after the 1991 council election. I was there. The reason was that the 1989 Local Government & Housing Act provided for "political balance" in all the committees of councils with political groups. What it means is that, if you are a member of a political group, your group leader can appoint you to membership of committees and the rest of the council has no say in the matter. The maximum number of such appointments, available to each group leader is pro rata to the strength of the group in the whole council. The wrinkle is that, if you are not in a group, the whole council including those who are "grouped" can vote on which committees you can go on. Thus, grouped members have two bites of the cherry: their own committee seats are dished out by their group and they can also vote on ungrouped members' allocations. So, if you are not a member of a group, you can be elbowed off committees that the grouped members don't want you on.

Thus, it seemed to me at the time, it was necessary for the independent members to form a group, so that we could avoid the risk of being shunted off our preferred committees at the behest of the "grouped" members. I formed the first "independent group" for that reason. It was not long before most of the independent members decided to join.

I rather agree with the author of the LD web site that it is a bit quaint for independent members to be members of "political" groups. Indeed, "my" first group was called the "West Devon Group", to avoid that inconsistency. In the 1995-1999 council, we called ourselves the "Others" group and included all manner of political views within its membership: there were at least two paid-up members of the Liberal Democrat party and, for a while, the only Labour member of the council.
The present "Independent" group does not operate as a whipped group; it cannot and has never tried to. Indeed "leadership" of an independent group is a thankless task. We operate as a information clearing house, as much as anything.

Those who choose to remain outside any group are, in practice, not disadvantaged at West Devon. That is mainly because there are so few of them. We ensure, in practice, that they are included, if they want to be.

My own view, for what it is worth, is that, whilst party politics has a place in local councils, the councils work best when they are not controlled by a single party group. One of the things that I hope this sort of discussion illustrates is that party-politically committed councillors and their supporters outside the council tend to embroil us all in the kind of irrelevant personal slanging matches characterised by the web document that I am tearing apart here. I can't see how it helps to keep the streets clean or, indeed, improve our recycling record.

I hope I haven't slagged anyone off. What I have tried to do is put the record straight.

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27 June 2003
Updated 11 July 2003