Our role is to represent the community in the Town Hall not t’other way round

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When politicans get sponsorship from private companies you need to ask do they serve that company or the public!

Two things have made me ponder over the past few days about the nature of community politics. In some ways this should not be a surprise because I represent the ward where the modern notion of community politics was invented. It was in Church Ward at the end of the 60s where the late Sir Trevor Jones put together the principles of community empowerment with the marketing techniques he successfully used to develop a leading ships chandlers business in Liverpool.

Put simply I believe that it is our job to represent the people in the Town Hall and not to represent the Town Hall in the community. At the end of the day the City of Liverpool belongs to the people of Liverpool. Councillors (even old hacks like me) are short term custodians of the City using the power of the people that has been lent to us by the ballot box.

I have particularly felt that in the past few days over the issue of the sale of part of Calderstones Park to Redrow. It is now becoming increasingly clear that this is part of an elaborate charade being conducted by the council to enable Redrow to develop not only the Calderstones Park area but also the Allerton Priory area. I remember that at the planning committee which considered Allerton Priory Redrow did not even turn up. The council rightly put forward objections into the application based on heritage, traffic, environmental and animal issues. The planning committee did the right thing.

Redrow have now appealed against this decision but interestingly have made it clear that they will not, as would normally happen, pursue the council for costs if they are successful. Of course at the other end of the South Liverpool green wedge the planning committee took the alternative decision. Although the heritage, environmental, traffic and animal issues are even clearer in Calderstones than Allerton Priory. Here Redrow turned up; did not themselves speak but allowed an agent to make a poor presentation on their behalf.

I can only assume that they knew that the council would grant permission on Caldies and therefore felt they had no need to pursue Allerton Priory hard because they knew that granting of the planning permission at Caldies would hugely damage the chance of winning the appeal on the Priory. Let’s not forget that according to the Mayor’s own website Redrow were silver sponsors at a fund raising event that he held in 2015.

The people of Church; Woolton and Allerton Wards are well aware of the issues around here. Yesterday I had a reception like no other that I can recall in all my years as a councillor. People were literally queuing at our Advice Centre to pledge support for a continued campaign to stop Redrow. I was delivering leaflets later in the day. People were shouting “Good luck and Keep up the Good work” as I progressed through the area. I felt strongly that I was amongst friends; amongst a community that I am proud to represent and that there was a strong level of trust between me as a councillor and my constituents.

I do not, by any means always agree with everything that my constituents want. I recognise that in our City there are areas in far greater need than the ward that I represent. On that basis I do not always press for things that my constituents want. They are not always happy with this. However, when I cannot deliver what my constituents want I feel obliged to tell them why.

The way I think of my constituents and democracy was brought into sharp relief by the actions of a nearby inexperienced and frankly naive Labour Councillor. After the Caldies vote one of my constituents wrote to all the 5 local labour councillors to say that they thought the people of the area around the Park in those wards would never vote Labour again. That councillor e-mailed back because they felt that they had been threatened by the contents of the very mildly written e-mail. The councillor has also complained to the council about the resident’s e-mail!

Well I don’t expect my constituents to always agree with what I do or say. The whole concept of democracy is that electors as a whole look at what every candidate does or says and then chooses between all the names on the ballot paper. If Labour are going to burst into tears every time a S Liverpool residents tells them they will never vote Labour again, at least at local elections, because of the Calderstones position taken by their Party they will need to order paper hankies in bulk!

Community politics is a complex issue because there are many different types of it. What I have described above is just one version of community politics although the one closest to my heart!

There is Politics in the Community. When we go and ask people to vote at any level we are asking them to vote on big picture issues; strategies and policies that affect them we are asking them to look at hard level politics.

There is the politics of the community. Not all communities are homogenous. Often different groups and different geographical parts of areas will have different views on big and small issues. This will often be true on matters such as planning where there is a different viewpoint between those who will be closely affected by a decision and those that live further away who will not be so affected.

All of these are important as is the carry through into the council chamber. I always vote with my conscience on what I believe to be the best long term proposals for my city and my constituents even if, as I explain above, not all of them agree with me. I have never been whipped to vote for a particular decision. In the course of 34 years as a councillor I have voted against the Group line on about a dozen occasions. Never, of course, on matters of liberal principle. There was never a comeback against me because that is what my Party expects. People from other Parties sometimes laugh at us if we vote differently. We laugh at them when they vote the same although some of them don’t believe in what they are voting for.

I am glad that so many of the people I represent and those in surrounding communities see me and my 3 councillor colleagues not as some remote politician but as someone who they know well; see regularly in the community and consider us as their friends and neighbours.

In May 2018 our communities and the Lib Dems will have more friends inside the council chamber. We will take back the city street by street, community by community and ward by ward. We will re-establish our Council and our City not as a place of cronyism and deals but a place of transparency where it is the will of the people that will prevail and note the narrow interests of a political elite.

 

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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