Friday, 27 April 2012

Growing up as a Council - Cheshire West and Chester

I think we are at a cross roads at Cheshire West and Chester Council.  Are we going to go down the route of nasty muck raking politics or are we going to try and ensure a high standard of debate and keep personalities out as much as we can?

I was Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny from the shadow year through to the elections in May 2011.  I made it very clear - that in my role as Chairman - I would encourage debate, build consensus and rule out and 'offside' unnecessary personal comment and criticism.  I have to say my colleagues from all parties responded very well to this and we were pretty good and focusing on policy and avoiding personality.

Not all the areas of council work functioned so well - but then two of our predecessor authorities had more robust exchanges than I was familiar with and comfortable with at Vale Royal and may not have made the transition to mature debate as readily.

Last night we had a debate at CWaC full council which skirted around Cllr Mike Jones's Leadership and whether his leadership was affected by the insolvency of his company.   You can argue the point either way - is this a personal matter or not?  However even if you argue it is a Council matter you can choose not to attack in that way.  Given that an investigation involving senior council officers, the district auditor and the liquidator had confirmed prior to the debate that there was no wrong doing or impropriety I believe the motion put should not have been debated.

I argued that we as a council should rise above such things.  Labour raised the fact that the insolvency was something that had reached Private Eye.

OK - well if reaching Private Eye is your benchmark - lets not forget Sam Harmer - our 18 year old Councillor in Frodsham who was hounded out of office when a failed Labour opponent took issue with his facebook page.  We too made it into Rotten Boroughs in Private Eye - who noted the manufactured indignation.  I still think it is a tremendous shame that we don't have a young person at FTC's meetings.  Surely we are better than this?  

Surely we want to be more inclusive and encourage greater participation?  If we are all democrats surely we should be welcoming of views - and debate?  A policy argument should effectively be personality blind.  I do accept that some people are 'beyond the pale' - but there are very few of them.   A matter of a failed company doesn't mean one is unfit - especially when the company failed in the teeth of one of the longest economic downturns we as a country have endured.

There is a nasty side to politics - and some people and parties are more comfortable with playing the man and not the ball than others.  Does that happen because they can't think of policy, or provide leadership?