Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Campaign Diary: "Why on earth do you do it?"

Mechanics Institute, Denholme - showing the Pricess Diana Memorial Garden
I set out to write a review of my re-election campaign, a sort of halfway point (OK, more than halfway point) appraisal of what I’ve seen and heard plus a comment or two on things that matter to me. But then the bloke at the pub asked me:

“Why on earth do you do it?”

It took a little longer than that – the reminder of Graham’s regular observation that politicians are constrained in what they can say by the conventions of modern political correctness. Partly this is used to explain why there are fewer racist politicians but underneath that is a more profound truth – we are both liberated, given a platform, and restricted in what we may speak from that platform.

The problem was that I couldn’t give that bloke in the pub a snappy response – a substantial observation of local government’s value, a reminder of what we get from democracy or a personal mission of change.

“Perhaps if people like me stop, the nutters will take over,” I quipped.

Not really the best answer, but it was a pub, we were there to watch football rather than discuss politics – or even the purpose of the politician. It was the best I could do at the time!

However, I’ve been thinking – dangerous pastime in a local councillor I know, something our party managements put much effort into suppressing. Thinking about the question that bloke posed – why do I do it? What on earth possesses me to put myself at the mercy of a largely ungrateful electorate, spend time at dreary meetings that seem obsessed with the minutiae of process rather than with grand issues of state,  and wrap myself in the distrust the employers and others have in the politician?

A clue to why lies in my shallow little quip – by nutters I don’t mean people who have peculiar political views, extremists or even the ‘other side’. I mean the nasty side of politics – the status-seeker, the power-hungry, those more interested in their own advantage than in the ‘right thing’. I have encountered such people – men and women who would scheme, manipulate and destroy to get what they want. Perhaps, I am a little tainted by this corruption now but I still cling to the values of service, duty and responsibility – as do many others, of course.

My father – who was a local councillor for a long time – defined for me the priorities of a politician. They go something like this:

Your first priority is to your conscience – to doing the right thing.
Your second priority is to those who elect you, who you represent – to consider their interests
Your last priority is to the Party, to the whip – to your colleagues

This may make uncomfortable reading for the tribal creatures of party – those who adhere to some sort of democratic centralist myth of leadership.

But I do it – stay as a local councillor – firstly for me, for my own desire to have a voice, however that voice may be limited or hobbled. Secondly I do it for my neighbours – for the wonderful people (and one or two not so wonderful ones) who live in the five villages making up Bingley Rural. And thirdly, I do it to stand firm beside others in the Conservative cause, in opposition to socialism and the creeping semi-fascism of social democracy.

These five villages – Cullingworth where I live, Wilsden, Cottingley, Harden and Denholme – great places, real places that deserve affection and require someone who cares for these places, for the old buildings, for the fields, woods and stone walls, for the people living and working here. Above all someone for whom the magic of the South Pennines – or at least this little bit of that beauteous range – sings loudly and who wishes to see that magic preserved.


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