Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The disintegrating power of a great wind…

I had believed that the man of few words, Chris Saint, in his struggle to find another Stratford-on-Avon District Council seat – after what Preston Witts recently described as “a classic case of turkeys voting for Christmas – but with public opinion holding a gun to their heads!”: that is “the district council’s membership… being reduced from 53 to 36, as part of a cost-cutting exercise” – was to be parachuted into Tysoe, in readiness for this May’s council elections. But it seems that his popularity within his party (as well as without) – apart from his use as sacrificial mutton – has vanished like a man overtaken by an avalanche: meaning that his desperate declaration that he was ready to “lead the campaign for all other Conservative party candidates” has probably gone unheeded (and possibly with some derision: bringing to mind David Simonds’ inspired reversal – Not quite behind you, Tony – of the famous Churchill cartoon, by David Low).

Here’s a little more background to Councillor Saint’s – deserved? – plight, from Preston Witts’ ‘special report’…

There have necessarily been major boundary changes, and councillors are having to fight it out among themselves to become the official candidates for their parties. For Cllr Saint this has not proved as simple as he might have hoped.
     He had already been defeated 25-0 in a vote among ward members following his bid to become the Tory candidate for the safe and expanded seat of Ettington. The victor there was Cllr Philip Seccombe, who currently represents Brailes.
     He was also beaten by former Tory leader Cllr Stephen Gray (Long Compton) in his bid to get the new Brailes and Compton candidacy. And then, just before Christmas, he lost out to local businessman Bart Dalla Mura in his attempt to win the candidacy for the new Red Horse ward….

… and it’s that last fact that woke me with a start from my depressing, now-happily-mistaken belief; and gave me hope – despite me standing quite a long way to the left of Bart (politically: which is why this was news to me, no doubt… – not literally: which, presuming he’s behind the till, would probably mean me standing somewhere between Barn Grounds and Lane End Farms; or, more likely, on Clopton Bridge).

Nearly a year ago, I wrote about my definition of an ideal politician (and, yes, I know that sounds like an oxymoron):

If politicians – at all levels: from parish councillors to prime ministers – want to (and they should…) be held accountable, then they should not either need – or mind – being reminded of this, from time to time. They also should not act as if any contract they have with their voters ends the moment they gain power.

And this is – firstly – why I have faith in Bart doing a good job as our district councillor, when I am not remotely of his political ilk. Working in – and, most importantly, interacting on a regular basis with a large proportion of – our community means that he will, I hope (that is, not too tainted by his party membership), be more, ahem, representative than the average district councillor (especially one like Chris Saint: who seems, to me, to have been more interested in making deals, and getting his name mentioned – and not always in a good way – but you would obviously have to confirm that opinion with the worthy burghers of Tredington, Ilmington, Newbold; oh, and, of course, Shipston).

All Bart needs do to prove his worth, therefore (apart from, of course, continuing to run one of the best village shops I’ve ever encountered), is to use those regular interactions with his electorate – and the evidence they provide of our needs and wants as residents – wisely, publicly, consistently, and coherently. He wouldn’t even need to conduct dedicated surgeries – although wouldn’t it be nice to have a regular constituency-related cup of tea with him, say, every Friday morning? (Hint, hint.)

Evidence, for any action, fact, plan, etc. is fundamental – and nowhere more so than in government: which affects every nook and cranny of our society. For example, if research demonstrates (which it does) that the accelerating growth in the number and usage of food banks is caused by an increase in benefits sanctions (as well as falling wages); and that benefit fraud is utterly miniscule – and will remain at that same miniscule level, whatever policies or targets you do or don’t implement (but that the use of food banks will increase concomitantly) – what is the point of implementing them? (An honest answer would be that there isn’t one – or that the Government is actually trying to wipe out a strata of society by stealth… – it is merely to sway opinion, and/or to make the Government look busy. The current political answer, though, is that it deters others – whoever those “others” are – and encourages ‘scroungers’ back into (non-existent) work.) Why not, instead, go after those who break the law with deliberate and serious intent – for example, those who actively avoid paying tax – and thus bring substantially more badly-needed money rightfully back into the economy?

In Monday’s Guardian, Zoe Williams wrote of ‘The strange new world of evidence-free government’:

From the point of view of governing… – it is illogical to make significant changes without research…. If you are taking even a medium-term view, it makes no sense to change systems without evidence….
     I begin to wonder whether the real radicalism we observe… is not political as much as formal: government with only the shallowest roots and no eye on the future, whose only interest is near-term PR wins. Is it a feature of coalition or of the new Conservatism to have no interest in an action’s consequences? Hard to say. But it is the antithesis of conservatism.

And I think it imperative that this axiom – that “it is illogical to make significant changes without research” – should be learned and repeated at all levels of government (and be at their heart): whether it be encouraging wind- and solar-power, to protect future generations’ enjoyment of our beautiful (whilst it remains so) planet; containing the rate of growth of our villages, for sustainability’s sake; or managing the economy in such a way that our rulers are not merely concerned with instant gratification and point-scoring. (In fact – digressing slightly – if I had my way, political parties would have to survive on their own merits (presuming they actually have any) – themselves governed by something like the comparative advertising rules which disallowed (in the UK, until 1994) ‘knocking copy’ disparaging your competitors – rather than simply whingeing all the time (often untruthfully) about how it was all the previous incumbents’ fault. And yes, I know asking for honesty, decency, logic and common sense in politics is about as pragmatic as asking louts not to litter; or most drivers on the A422 to obey speed limits… – but a bard can have dreams, can’t he…?)

Secondly – getting back on topic – as well as gathering useful evidence, I would guess that the other half of my reason for having “faith in Bart” (T-shirt, anyone?!) chimes with many who support the idea of ‘mixed-member’ proportional representation: i.e. that if you have a good local (independently-minded?) spokesperson, then you would vote for them whatever their party; knowing that, nationally, you could then vote in line with your political allegiances. Good community service does not rely on political leanings; and can be – at least on the ground – quite neutral. Sadly, our antiquated ‘first past the post’ system – as well as probably leading to an endless stream of meaningless coalitions – neutralizes any chance we have of casting ballots that reflect such logic.

I do hope, though – with the taste of political success Bart will no doubt be rewarded with, come May, in Tysoe’s Tory heartlands (standing for the Conservatives at any level, here, is something of a turkey-shoot) – that it will not go to his undoubtedly wise head; and he will not be tempted by the trolling-spoon of two political posts (on top of his successful day job): i.e. representing us at both district and county levels – a vogue for which many of our local councillors seem to be keen; and which only adds fuel to the already-well-stoked fires of cronyism and political élitism. (Mind you, if you can be Mayor of London and an MP at the same time: what’s to stop you from adding county, district, town and parish councillor to your portfolio – especially if you pay so little attention, and put so little time and effort in to each rôle…? You might as well be party leader, as well. (But, please, for heaven’s sake, not Prime Minister… – that is the stuff of which nightmares are made.))

In my earlier post, I wrote:

What I’m trying to get at – always naïvely hoping that others will try and live up to the expectations I have of them: because I would expect nothing less of myself (i.e. the curse of the idealistic perfectionist) – is that those curiosities (or nonpareils) who are voted in because they really do want to deliver what their constituents want and need, will always feel that – whatever public and private good they actually deliver – they are not doing enough; and what they are doing is not to a high-enough standard.

I therefore trust – remembering that my party membership card is of a different hue – that, however high those “expectations”, this is how we will learn to think of Bart’s political service to us; and that I have not misapplied my faith in either his abilities or his motives. We shall see.

To found a great empire for the sole purpose of raising up a people of customers may at first sight appear a project fit only for a nation of shopkeepers. It is, however, a project altogether unfit for a nation of shopkeepers; but extremely fit for a nation whose government is influenced by shopkeepers.
– Adam Smith: The Wealth of Nations

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