All sorts of partnerships are emerging post elections

Although our gains were modest on 6 May the Lib Dems have moved into shared control in a number of councils by agreeing sensible shared priorities with a range of parties on a localised basis. That cooperation should be the way that things are done nationally as well.

On Friday last week my friend Cllr Lucy Netsingha became the Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. She will lead a partnership group made up of the Lib Dems, Labour and 4 independents.

Tomorrow I am going up to Durham to help negotiate a new controlling group of Lib Dems, Northern Independence Party, independents and Tories. Our Leader there, Cllr Amanda Hopgood is playing a leading role in bringing together the ‘Durham Partnership’.

The key note of these two agreements and others is that they reflect the will of the people through their votes that no one Party should control their Council. In both these cases the partnership being formed is designed to get the previous controlling party out. In the case of Durham that Council had been controlled by Labour for more than a century. In the case of Oxfordshire, the Tories have ruled for almost as long.

In both these examples there is a real desire to remove the incumbents from power because of the way that they have behaved whilst in control. Unchallenged power leads to complacency and arrogance. In both councils there has been a strong element of excluding the Parties that were in opposition from the rightful influence that their share of the vote and their share of the Councillors should have entitled them to.

I hope that the incoming partnerships will be more generous than that. There is, however, a lot of evidence that such groups go into a sustained sulk when they go into opposition. They cannot believe that their rights within the council are reduced. In Torbay the Tories are only just coming out of that sulk after two years since the Lib Dems and independents formed a partnership to oust them from power.

The process in both these two councils who went into NOC this year is threefold:

Firstly, a look at what combinations of Parties is possible followed up by thoughts about what combinations are not only possible but desirable. Such desirability takes into account personal relationships within the Council as well as political programmes.

Secondly a partnership agreement is drawn up which indicates what differences the incoming controlling group wants to do that the last group didn’t do. If you don’t want to change directions and methods then what’s the point of getting elected. The agreement will also say how the internal methods of working within the partnership and coming to decisions about budgets and contentious issues will come to the fore.

Lastly, if an agreement on policies is agreed then the practicalities of who does what comes to the fore. Who will be the Leader, who will do what within the Cabinet and in the other positions?

In some ways much of what happens is not that much different to having one Party control of a Council. In Liverpool, for example, the Labour Leader doesn’t have to balance 4 or 5 different Parties but 5 or 6 different factions!

It should be emphasised here that all this does not necessarily mean good news for those who call for a progressive alliance to defeat the Tories. All these deals have been done post-election and not pre-election. People vote for individuals and Parties for a range of reasons. Often, they are voting for one Party because they don’t like another. They vote for one candidate because they don’t like another.

All told political parties are wholly unable to deliver their voters to somewhere else is doomed to failure. A simplistic adding up of the votes of a number of Parties to produce an outcome that we think is desirable is just pie in the sky. Having said that people come to their own conclusions. It was noticeable that when Sarah Olney got elected in her by-election the Labour candidate got less votes than the number of Labour members in that Constituency.

My own belief is that politicians should just get used to working together more and be more accepting of other Party’s policies and methods. We should try and be as inclusive as possible. The vast majority of councillors get elected for one reason only – to try and improve things for their community and the wider council area. There is a lot of common ground between most councillors about the pragmatic methods needed to deliver services and a better future for those they represent. That common ground too often gets dissipated by an unnecessary tribalism and arrogance with people defending their tribe to the end instead of accepting compromise and joint working and rightful involvement.

In Liverpool the Liberal Democrats have offered to work with Labour to maximise joint working and minimise confrontation. Of course, there will be times when we will vote against Labour on some issues. That may well come about at the first meeting of the Council on Wednesday. It seems likely that we will oppose a small part of the Council’s response to the Caller Report. However, as we do that, we will make clear that we support most of the recommendations and are opposed to about 5%.

I think that this is the sort of way of working that the people of the UK are increasingly demanding. Working together instead of interminable arguments. Cooperation instead of confrontation. That’s what Lib Dems are trying to do in Liverpool, Cambridgeshire, and Durham. We try and do it in every council whether we lead or control it or are in opposition. That’s what our troubled times need. I only hope that the other Parties agree locally and nationally.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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