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."