A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Monday, July 07, 2008

In contrast ...

One of the people who should have been Deputy Leader and is displaying admirable loyalty to the PM, Hazel Blears, was on form at the LGA last week, with this to say about the role of political parties, councillors and councils:

"So I am announcing today a new set of powers for local authorities to be able to promote democracy. This ‘duty to promote democracy’ will mean that local councils are placed in their proper context: not as units of local administration, but as lively, vibrant hubs of democracy.

I want councillors to be in charge of councils. That may seem obvious – unless you’ve served as a councillor!

I am reminded of the story told by Tony Benn from his days as Minister for Technology in the Wilson Government. There was a large demonstration outside the department, as so often happened in the 1960s. There were all the usual groups: the International Socialists, the Revolutionary Workers, the Anarchists. The Permanent Secretary burst into Tony Benn’s office, and warned him: Minister, we have to evacuate. The Anarchists are trying to take over the Department. To which Benn replied: ‘but I’ve been trying to do that for months…’

It always sounds better when he tells it!

So I see this new duty being interpreted in various practical ways which will help councillors be more effective.

For example, I never again want to hear an officer tell a councillor that they can’t hold surgeries on council premises, or appear on a council website or leaflet because that’s ‘political’.

I want political parties to be able to hold their meetings in council buildings, and to have stalls at council-run public events, so that political parties are seen as every bit as legitimate as the chamber of commerce or the voluntary sector.

I want every citizen to be able to phone up their council, and for the person on the end of the phone to be able to tell them the name of the Leader of the council, the political party they belong to, which party or parties are in control, and when the next set of elections is.

I am making money available to train these council staff in the basics of local democracy.

I want leaders of councillors to have reasonable facilities: a desk, a phone, a computer, support staff.

I want every council (not just the best) to run lively campaigns to explain the voting system, to encourage first-time voters, and to sign people onto the register.

Some of you may say: but Hazel we already do all of this stuff. But ask yourself whether every council does it, and you will see we need to send a signal loud and clear that councillors are in charge of councils: elected, representative, accountable.

These measures will make it clear that politics is not a dirty word, that councils are political entities, and that councillors, with power on loan from the people, are in charge."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hazel Blears!! Hazel bloody Blears!!! The dream ticket of Brown and Blears???? That would have us 40% behind in the polls.

2:34 pm, July 07, 2008

Anonymous Neil F said...

I completely agree with all these suggestions and have thought for some time they were needed. Some council's websites need work on to in terms of being able to find out the political complexion of councils, who to contact, when the next election is etc. People should be able to find their councillor within 3 or 4 'clicks'. One authority near me takes about 10.

4:56 pm, July 07, 2008

Anonymous Neil F said...

'too' not 'to'

4:57 pm, July 07, 2008

Blogger Miller 2.0 said...

Hats off to Hazel, her work in her current brief has been marvellous.

As long as she stays on topic, I'm more than happy.

7:04 pm, July 07, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Usual vacuous nonsense from Blears. Local councils should be given the powers back which were taken away from them under the Tories - then councillors would have something to do. Get rid of the cabinet system, too - its proved a recipe for officer domination.

This sort of stuff is just frills to tickle the ears of councillors.

8:34 pm, July 07, 2008

Anonymous AJ said...

Sorry mike but how does giving Councils back more powers make them more political?

Unless you address the real problems that Luke points out you will lead to even more officer creep and find yourself no further forward.

Also the Cabinet system works just fine. The old model is out of date and if we were really brave we would impose mayors on each and every local authority without a referendum.

Problem is that too many local councillors are stale and past it. People with no vision and lacking in the capacity to take real leadership rather than placate vested interests.

10:28 pm, July 07, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

But then view Iain Dale's take on her loyalty.

I'm weary of this - she may be angling to position council democracy in time for the next Tory Government, so that Labour councils elected on the mid-term swing will be able to use council resources to propagandise in their own interest. But it'll be interesting to see what this crystallises into.

11:09 pm, July 07, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

Councils have very little of any substance to do, so councillors either do lots of casework, which thery generally do badly having no training for that role, or they end up, of in the cabinet, going native and working very closely with officers.

No-one with any sense wants to be a councillor any more because what you can actually do is so limited. The cabinet system means that councillors with careers have no real ability to influence matters any longer. Weak councillors (of all parties) are far more easily dominated by officers.

Elected mayors - no way. Quite enough boss politics and megalomania, thank you, and the cabinet system doesn't work. Unless you want officer domination which it is set up to provide.

11:49 pm, July 07, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

All window dressing! If councils were given back the powers that have been gradually taken away you will get mre engagement because it will matter more. elected mayors is just a PR idea. I particularly choked on the suggestion that collecting the trigger signatures needed to be made easier. if there is a genuine desire in an area for an elected mayor campaigners will have no problems getting the signatures. It is because there is no genuine desire, and often no campaign outside a guy in an office doing media, that there are not more referenda. Hazel should recognise reality and do something meaningful

8:41 pm, July 10, 2008

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