One aspect of politics is about the selling of a message. This can present a problem with the public perception of politicians. Even if councillors of one political party agree with their opponents on a matter, are they actually saying this in public? If they cannot be trusted to do so, but instead criticise their opposite numbers on everything, where is the integrity in that and how worthwhile does voting become as a consequence?
A symptom of this difficulty is apparent in the way a council’s successes are described, if an Opposition actually bothers to do so. It will be usual and reasonable for an Opposition to congratulate council officers. That same treatment will not typically extend to any of the councillors in the current political administration. We are supposed to infer that any success could not possibly be anything to do with the councillors. Conversely those same councillors will also be credited with full responsibility for any perceived failures.
I was asked at the last Full Council in October why we tended to put out positive news stories in our press releases. In response, I pointed out that we could rely on the Labour Opposition to create the negative ones. So why duplicate?
An Opposition Party can say more of what it likes because it does not have the responsibility of carrying out what it advocates. It can even ‘forget’ what it did when it was last in power. Therefore in Crawley, the Labour Party can fail to remember Crawley Council, under its control, making £10 million of loans to Glasgow City Council It can overlook its decision to operate K2 Crawley and Tilgate Golf Course with providers external to the Council.
The same Labour politicians can fail to acknowledge their closure of seven play centres, their introduction of car park charging at Tilgate Park and their ending of ‘free’ swimming when K2 Crawley was opened. Their introduction of ‘market’ rents for neighbourhood parade shops in May 2004 was surely just a little lapse or were they not paying attention? The first Play Strategy, approving expenditure on larger, better equipped play areas, with the closure of smaller facilities, was approved under a Labour Council.
Each of these political themes has been the subject of subsequent Labour criticism. Political amnesia in so many people is simply not credible. They could argue that these were officer-led decisions but if so, why vote for any Labour councillors?
The annual budget debate can demonstrate similar behaviours, apart from February 2009, when all three political parties agreed the spending plans. Historically there have been some dubious amendments from both Labour and Conservative Oppositions, which have called for unsustainable draws on reserves.
That is just disingenuous and lazy politics.