We are in the middle of the political party conference season. This was for some time a ‘BBB’ seaside circuit with Blackpool, Bournemouth and Brighton being the favoured locations. Times have changed and other destinations have entered the preferred list.
Regardless of location, it is a season when each party has the opportunity to promote the apparent infallibility of their own policies and contrast this with the inability of their opponents to do anything right at all.
In reality, good governance draws on the traditions and values of all political parties with elected representation. We can look at the apparent misjudgements, errors and scandals in our own country and in absolute terms, these events are quite serious. Looking beyond to other world locations, we might consider ourselves quite fortunate with the relative scale of our issues.
This is not an accident but in part the product of the varied political contributions that we enjoy in a democracy. The presence of a number of political parties provides a check and balance on what might otherwise be the unbridled urge of a majority. Recognising that nobody enjoys a monopoly of wisdom is a powerful thought. Within Crawley Council, we have three political parties represented. Over time, the parallel contributions of Conservatism, Socialism and Liberalism with their different emphases are an important factor in the work that we do.
As an antidote to the “I’m right, you’re wrong” excesses of the conference season, it can be useful to reflect on just a few local contributions from different parties that feel right to put it mildly. This trawl is supported by the view that nobody can be wrong all of the time although it is possible to meet people who test the theory to destruction.
Years ago, it was suggested that we should have public question sessions at meetings of the Full Council and subsequently committee meetings. There was a lot of opposition and I do not recall being that keen myself. Yet today, this is an embedded and well-regarded standard practice for which the early proponents were the Liberal Democrats (Bournemouth, 13th to 17th September).
It is difficult, through sheer length of time in office, to isolate a single contribution from the council’s main opposition party. I believe that many would agree that the far-sighted purchase of Tilgate Park for the community stands out today as a landmark decision for Crawley people. This action was taken by the council led by Labour (Manchester, 20th to 24th September).
The Conservative (Birmingham, 28th September to 1st October) Council has started a strategy to balance our income with our expenditure so that we can invest much more of our capital in the town’s infrastructure including major neighbourhood improvements. As these schemes come to fruition, perhaps somebody will write, “That was a good idea”. I certainly hope so.
None of this should suggest that the political parties get on famously all of the time but it can be worthwhile for the credibility of politics as an institution to now-and-again, here-and-there give public credit for the ideas of others.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
21st September 2008