Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Day I Officially Became A Handicap To Local Democracy

Peter Black has already written a pretty comprehensive post on the Councillors Commission proposals. I particularly agree with his last paragraph:

Normally, one would rely on Ministers to sort the wheat from the chaff. My fear however is that they and their civil servants have demonstrated again and again that they do not understand how local democracy works and that they believe they can use Councils as a testing ground for some really silly proposals. When that happens it is local services that suffer, along with the confidence of the electorate in their Councillors and their Council. That is a sure-fire way to damage our democracy. Surely it is time that we said enough is enough.


It's their proposal that people should be barred from serving more than 5 terms as a councillor that affects me most personally. I've done more than five terms already, so if the commission get their way, I wouldn't be allowed to stand again.

When I first read about this on Sunday morning I was annoyed - I've enjoyed being a councillor, feel I do a decent job and I've assumed that my civic future will be determined by the local electorate (who last time gave me about 74 percent of the vote in a town from elects a Conservative MP by a large margin.)

However in the late afternoon I was out delivering some of our Christmas Focus. In the damp December dusk, self-doubt starting to creep in. Do councillors get too complacent after 20 years? What should my aims be? Am I achieving them?

Nothing much is going to happen after my walk in the dusk. I'm still against the commission's proposal for a 5 term maximum - I think such a blanket ban across the whole country is unneccessary and illiberal. I'm not planning to step down.

But this report has unsettled me. The idea that the commission believes I'm a handicap to local democracy has left me with an uneasy feeling....

9 comments:

rkjfyoung said...

Chris, Take courage. Jane Roberts, who chaired this commission, was formerly leader of Camden council. During her reign Camden Labour rejoiced in a multitude of multi-term councillors. The longest serving (unlike Jane) sought re-election in 2005, and won, finishing with 51 years unbroken service before he finally succumbed to Alzheimer's and was retired in 2006, to plaudits from all sides on the very special service he had given, value of his wisdom and experience etc etc He was made an honorary alderman (though unfortunately he probably doesn't know it). But the presence of Labour veterans did not stand in the way of a clutch of youthful Lib Dems (many under 30, the youngest 21) winning seats in 2005 and wresting control from Labour for the first time in 35 years. And the hon alderman's seat, when it at last fell vacant, was won by a Lib Dem in his 20s at the by-election in October. Limit on the number of terms may be all very well in the case of powerful presidents where there is an evident danger of power of incumbency degenerating into autocracy or dictatorship. Local councillors are hardly vested with such huge powers as to render their long term service any sort of public danger. It is for the electorate to decide whether they are fit to be re-elected or not - and for no-one else. Long may your service continue!

rkjfyoung said...

Sorry - had a senior moment there! Local elections were in 2006, of course, and the veteran with 51 years service was retired (for non-attendance really) in June this year. Our by-election win of his seat followed in October. Momentary lapes like this should not be held against old duffers like me, whatever Jane Roberts might think.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

This is one reform I am fully confident will never be implemented if for not other reason than the fact that it would set a precedent that most MPs will find uncomfortable...

mhuntbach said...

I gave up being a councillor after three terms, which seemed about right to me. I felt it took the first term just to learn how the organisation worked and to move into a position of being able to propose things and challenge it from a position where one was strong enough to be confident what one was saying made sense.

After the second term, I was enthusiastic to get re-elected, and would have felt devastated had I lost the next election. But during the third term it began to be something of a chore, I was resenting the time it was taking out of my life, and I also felt I had reached the position where if I stayed on I would have to choose to make it my main career and drop my full time job which actually paid most of my income.

In practice, I can see that a council needs a mixture of people who have been there a long time and people who haven't. If you are new there it's easy for the officers to run rings around you, and you lack the experience to know which stones to turn over to find the nasties - which is a big part of what the job entails. There is also a need for a small number of councillors who have been there for decades and can speak from experience of what happened years ago or remember things that everyone else has forgotten. Balancing this, of course new people with new ideas need to be brought in regularly.

So I oppose term limits, while feeling that anyone who has had enough shouldn't feel they have to carry on out of a sense of duty, and local parties shouldn't try too hard to persuade people to stay on for re-election just because it's hard work to find others willing to take over.

Trevor said...

I agree with mhuntbach. When I served on the Council with Chris the contribution from long serving Councillors like the late Bernard Crick and you Chris (even then!) was invaluable. I always knew I would not serve as long as Bernard or Chris as I am the type of person who after a while wants to move on to new things. Long may you remain an asset to Local Democracy Chris.

Left Lib said...

I agree that there should not be a limit on how long a councillor can stay on. It is hard enough to find people to stand in the first place, so why make it even more difficult?
Having said that, the Liberal Democrats also support a policy of limiting the mayor of London for just 2 terms.
Isn't that inconsistent?

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

No, because a councillor is an elected representative while a mayor is an executive post. The two are not comparable.

Chris Black said...

Thanks for your comments guys, you've bolstered my spirits!

Alison Mayor said...

A very interesting thread to follow; I think it's good to debate these issues as it keeps us all on our toes and perhaps helps to overcome complacency which may exist in the minds of some long-serving councillors.

Chris expresses his own views on this weblog.


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