I have been an office holder of some sort in the LGA since it first met in 1997 and before that was on the executive of the AMA. There have been two rules in the LGA since it was founded which could be summed up as the 4 Musketeers principle “All for One and One for All!” Those rules meant that:
- We worked together on behalf of local government in supporting, amending or opposing what the central government as doing that affected local government. I have often described my position as Lib Dem leader at the LGA for the past 6 years as “being a leader of the National Party of Local Government taking on the National Party of Central Government down the road”
- We dealt with the challenge of running the LGA and its affiliated organisations on the same one leadership basis looking together at the opportunities or difficulties that presented themselves.
Over the past few months it seems to me that this political consensus has at minimum weakened and may be in some danger of breaking down altogether.
It all came to a head at the last meeting of the LGA Executive when there was, what should have been, a routine report on the ‘Getting Closer’ project which is slimming our activities to meet the finances that we have available in these straitened times and to meet the new business plan that we have worked on.
The ‘Getting Closer’ project has been work in progress since January 2009. We have, of course, had some differences of opinion during the intervening years but always minor and always amicably resolved. I was astonished to hear then that the Tories sought to move an amendment at the last Exec (which I missed because of other LGA duties) which would have established a member task group to shadow the officer work of implementation. This would have had the effect of seriously delaying the reshaping at a time when the following week (i.e. this week) the first of the job interviews were taking place to fill the jobs available. It was particularly surprising since work on the business plan had been led by Tory deputy Leader David Parsons.
This was grossly irresponsible. People’s lives and mortgages are at stake and it behoves us all to act decently and swiftly in these circumstances. Fortunately this move was headed off by the adoption of an amendment moved by my very capable Deputy, Gerald Vernon-Jackson which was also supported by Labour and the Independents to effectively keep the status quo which is that the Office Holders monitor the process. Significantly the Tories split on this major issue with some choosing not to support their Leader and abstained.
But this is not all that is wrong. Jeremy Beecham was an exemplar at working with and if necessary taking on his own Government. I have tried to follow his example – after all it’s what member authorities pay their subs for! The Tories mutter in private but are not prepared to raise their head above the parapet and say what they think in private in public. Whenever I say something which can be seen as critical of the government I get many e-mails from Tories urging me on and most of them ask the question “Why are our lot not doing the same?”
This week I met a leading LGA Tory who was still fuming, “It was an effing shambles”, he told me, “but of course it was nothing to do with “Getting Closer”. So what was it about? Elections. Not the important ones where we all meet the people but the follow up ones where we jostle for positions in the LGA. Margaret Eaton is standing down at the end of her three years and David Shakespeare is standing down at the end of his three years. So the Tories have two positions available and at least four people want the jobs. So not standing up for local government and moving daft amendments is not about local government or the LGA it is crude political infighting.
Well I’ve got news for the Tories. The fact that the Chair of the LGA goes to the biggest Party is a convention and not a constitutional necessity. Already many Lib Dems and some Labour councillors are asking if that convention should be applied given the failure to stand up and be counted.
So I’m putting the Tories at the LGA on notice. Shape up by the General Assembly at the end of June or you might not be taking the Chair after all.