The government has recently admitted that it might have made errors with immigration policy. It is healthy for politicians to concede that they might have got something wrong, even if recognition of this can seem belated. Unfortunately extended periods of political power can cause those who wield it to believe in their own infallibility. Such people can become legends in their own imagination.
Political parties can adopt policies that are inadequately tested for reasonableness. The Conservatives sometimes demonstrated this over the period 1979-97. We took the trouble to introduce HIRAS (Health cover Income Relief at Source) to assist with private health insurance premiums. The relief was available at the top slice tax rate and while arguments could be made in favour, the effort involved did not sit well with our more important commitment to an effective NHS for all.
Then we had the Community Charge, introduced as a standard flat rate paid by all. At one point, the argument was used that this was nothing unusual as other charges, such as car parking tickets, were also set at a flat rate. This missed the point that the charge for council services was much higher and warranted some reference to the ability to pay. Ultimately people could not be persuaded that the Community Charge was fair, even in a complexly amended form.
Labour governments also went too far in avoiding the test of reasonableness. We had tolerance of intolerance in that people could be forced to be members of trade unions and lose employment opportunities if they were not. The policy felt like one motivated by self-interest and an all-consuming drive for the consolidation of political power.
A Labour government of the same era operated pay restraint to combat inflation. At times, this policy would be broken through union bargaining power without the employer receiving much support from government. Instead it would sometimes be the employer who was the victim of government sanctions following the breach of the government’s pay guidelines. That was manifestly unfair and unreasonable.
Locally, we have seen some significant errors as well. During the 2005 / 06 Council year, the Labour Council wanted to introduce two travellers’ sites intoCrawley. The supporting reports suggested these were suitable locations and included a number of working assumptions. Those assumptions were unreasonable because they were at odds with the knowledge rooted in the experience of local residents, which is why the proposals failed to carry.
When the Conservatives took control of the Council in 2006, there was a strong desire to at least put the case for transferring Council homes to a housing association. With hindsight, it can perhaps be argued that this case was made for too long. There could have been an earlier realisation that we would be unlikely to persuade our tenants that such a transfer was sound and reasonable.
The power of reflection coupled with a readiness to acknowledge errors and learn from them can make us all better at what we do.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
4th November 2009