It’s time to reflect on a few things after 7 years as Leader of Sefton Council and 23 years as Leader of Maghull Town Council.
May of 2011 will hardly go down as one of the best set of elections for the Lib Dems and sadly they could hardly have been worse but in politics a wise man once said to me that you win things you don’t deserve to win and you lose things you don’t deserve to lose. One could also add that if you can’t stand the political heat don’t go into the political kitchen.
So a few comments on my time leading these two Councils. Firstly, a comment made to me on the day I became Leader of Sefton Council by Labour Cllr. Dave Martin who, like me this May, had suffered in his case a loss of Labour seats and was stepping down as Council Leader. Dave said ‘Within 6 months lad every nutter in the Borough will know who you are’. Well I certainly came across some colourful folks in my 7 years as Leader! In the rest of this posting I will answer questions that have been put to me in recent times:-
But what was it like leading a balanced Council? On the whole quite rewarding but at times very frustrating. I found working with politicians of other parties to be amicable with just the odd difficulty. Being a consensus politician by nature I don’t easily subscribe to the traditional and very childlike British approach of extreme tribalism in party politics.
Do I watch political programme on the TV? Hardly ever, I find them too tribal with far too much petty bickering, a bit like the House of Commons sadly!
What did I enjoy the most as a Council Leader? I think that would be working with the 10 Parish Councils across Sefton trying to get them to be both taken seriously by the Borough Council and to use their collective and individual voices more effectively.
What projects have I fought for both winning and losing? The big pluses must be gaining Meadows Leisure Centre for the East Parishes communities, winning the battle for the Thornton to Switch Island Link Road, seeing Aintree Village get its new GP surgery, fighting for Aintree Davenhill Primary School to be rebuilt and getting Lydiate Village Centre built. On the down side not being able to find a way to get Maghull North railway station built or indeed to get the Burscough rail curves reconnected have been huge frustrations.
Who did I get along with or not? I get along with most folks but some people are worth a mention as being really great to do business with – Barry Smith (former Town Clerk to Maghull Town Council), Charlie Barker (former Strategic Director of Sefton Council), Cllr. David Tattersall (recently retired from Sefton Council), Sheila Nelson, Charles Walker and many others whom I worked with on Maghull Town Council. I deliberately have not mentioned any serving officers and councillors. As to those I did not find it easy to work with I will simply say what my dear old mum used to say – if you can’t say anything good say nothing at all.
Who did I go to for advice when times were tough? The previously mentioned David Tattersall, ever a wise sage as can also be said of Cllr. Anthony Hill, Cllr. Roy Connell, Cllr. David Rimmer, Cllr. Iain Brodie-Brown and my good friends Cllr. Andrew Blackburn and Keith Page.
So what does the future hold? Well I am now in effect the Leader of the opposition on Sefton Council seeing the new Labour Leader of the Council having to take difficult decisions of the kind I once had to make. I wish him luck as it will be tough. I will not be taking the difficult decisions for him and my Lib Dem Group will hold him to account if he takes what we view to be the wrong course in his Leadership. Sadly, I think politics on Sefton Council will become more tribal as I can’t see the new Leader trying to find a consensus; his politics, or at least those of his party are tribal to the core.
On Maghull Town Council I hope our Lib Dem Group can work with the new Labour administration as party politics on a Parish Council can be almost ridiculous when the issues of the day are parks, gardens and other matters that are hard to be defined as party political. In my experience as a Parish Councillor of 26 years and counting I have found that trouble on a Parish Council normally comes from folks who want to be Mr or Mrs Big and they can come from any political direction or none at all.
Will I enjoy opposition politics? Probably not as much as being a Council Leader as opposition can by its very nature be a negative process especially in our so odd and tribal British political culture. We will see……………………….
And finally two things that make it all worthwhile no matter how tough it gets. Firstly, I never forgot my Liberal values in my time as Council Leader and today my good friend Iain Brodie-Brown has posted on his Birkdale Focus Blog (check out the link in my list of useful links) about the core values of Liberalism – thanks Iain always a good idea to bring such thoughts to the surface every now and again because that is what drives us Liberals forward. Secondly, in the post today (and just as I was finalising this posting) came a lovely letter from the Clerk of one of Sefton’s 10 Parish Councils. The letter was a personal one thanking me for my efforts as Sefton Council Leader to promote the interests of the smaller communities within the Borough. I will long treasure the letter as it seems to define what I was always trying to achieve as Council Leader and the fact that someone has taken the trouble to compose it made me feel that all the late nights dealing with one crisis in the Borough or another were worthwhile.