I’m visiting Bogota but I doubt that I will see much of it!
Often I get told by my constituents that I e-mail them at funny times. Whilst I do keep funny hours the most usual reason for this is that I am in a funny time zone. That will be true for the rest of this week as at 4pm I am setting off for Bogota to represent the UK at the Triennial Congress of United Cities & Local Government often mentioned and described as the local and regional government’s UN.
I am now in my last year of this activity. I have been our rep on this body for 9 years and 10 years will be long enough for long trips to places where I will see little but the hotel and conference centre. It has been a privilege to be entrusted with this important role because UCLG is an important way of councils throughout the World coming together to both lobby on issues that matter to them and to share information and experiences. For the benefit of the Liverpool Labour Party I will be travelling economy class; staying in a modest hotel (although a better one than normal for security reasons) and not costing the Liverpool taxpayer a penny I will as always keep plugging for Liverpool in a range of meetings.
This meeting is a particularly important one. A lot of the Congress will be involved with preparation for the Habitat III congress in Quito the following week although I will not be attending that despite several requests to do so. Habitat III is a perfect example of why local and regional governments must work both on the agenda and the policies. Only a handful of morons (UKIP and Donald Trump) now deny the terrible effects that global warming is having on our weather systems and our ability to grow crops and live safe lives. We can see the worst effects of this in the hurricanes which are more frequent and stronger than they have been as they pound the Caribbean and the SE USA.
But what we see less of but which is probably more concerning in the long term is the expansion of the deserts and the shrinking of the ice caps. This World may soon become uninhabitable. “Soon” does not mean in our lifetime but perhaps in only 3 or 4 generations we may be unable to feed and care for the increased number of people who are living and will live.
Some will say that this is all about big government. Only they can set the policies and the agendas to enforce the massive changes in law, practice and culture required. That may be right but that does not mean that we should not try and influence them. Our role is to both do that and to implement what they say should be done. So Habitat III is about the practical lobbying from people who know how to get things done and the UCLG Congress is about sharing the practice that can deliver the big boy’s policies.
This is approach is summed up excellently in the manifesto of Ilsur Metshin the Mayor of Kazan who hopes to become the next President of UCLG. His manifesto sums it up in its title “Mayors that care Share!” His contention which I wholeheartedly agree with is that the best Mayors go out and seek best practice all over the World and bring it home to their own area. The fact is that we can all learn from each other. The problems of running a big City like Kazan are little different from running a big city like Paris or Liverpool. As Mayor Metshin says, “we all need to get the bins emptied; the busses running on time and the schools running properly”.
UCLG is a place where we leave our politics on the steps of the plane when we set off. I don’t like many things that happen in China, Brazil or the USA but we leave the geo-politics behind. We meet and discuss things in a spirit of quiet diplomacy. This diplomacy is increasingly important. Slowly the role of the national state is becoming less important. In the context of our own Liverpool City Region I have argued that we should consider ourselves a city state. I pose the question, “what if the ‘city states’ of Liverpool, Manchester and Northern Ireland with our many links and potentials decided to work together and bypass and wherever possible ignore Whitehall and Westminster?”
My answer is that if the right city regions in the UK decided to work together on the domestic agenda they could achieve much kin terms of investment and the provision of high quality services. If those same ‘city states’ worked together on the international scene by seeking partnerships with similar ‘city states’ where there is a joint interest we can achieve much in terms of practical diplomacy and the exchange of educational, commercial and industrial links that will benefit all our Citizens.
That’s why I have been get up a ridiculous hours or going to bed at ridiculous hours for the past 9 years – to ensure that the regional and local governments have their own safe place where such links can be created and such practical activities encouraged. UCLG is an organisation which is getting stronger and is now heavily respected by organisations like the UN; UNESCO and the WHO. It needs to do far more now to build its links with its local government base.
I will blog you from Bogota to tell you what’s going on. I hope that you will think it all worthwhile. I never complain when politicians go abroad to work for our Country. It’s no jolly or junket but a hard grind for 4 days. I actually think we should actually spend more time doing it providing we do it properly.
In the meantime stand by for Tweets and e-mails at funny times!