Friday, 23 October 2009

Reflections on 'Together'

'Together' is Kirklees Council's free magazine that goes out to all households every couple of months or so. I was a bit surprised in the last one to see Cllr Mehboob Khan make reference to the support his administration have from the Green Party and the Lib Dems. I'm a wee bit more philosophical about who we cooperate with on the Council. If your starting point is that there isn't really a lot of political difference between any of the larger parties then your chief considerations are the personalities involved, whether or not you can trust them and what you can get out of them to help further the Green Party's objectives of protecting our local and global environment.

Our story of cooperating with the larger parties began with the 2000 budget in the February of that year when Labour needed 2 votes to get their budget through and we had 3 Councillors. That was the year we established the Renewable Energy Fund which since it was created has levered in millions of external funding. These were the dying days of a Labour administration that had been in a majority position for many years. Relations between the Greens and Labour were not good. It was due to the three seats we took off them that they lost their majority but the deal we secured was a good one and they were keen to demonstrate they were acting in good faith. You could be certain that their word would be kept.

Following the local elections in 2ooo we ended up with an all party administration with all groups represented and with the Green Party responsible for Housing Policy. It didn't last long with Labour and the Conservatives falling out with the Liberal Democrat leadership who they accused of taking credit for the things that went well and sharing the blame for what went wrong. They walked away and we stayed put in a Lib Dem/Green Shared Administration. Graham Simpson was our Cabinet Member for the first couple of years and he helped steer Kirklees Council into putting its housing into an Arms Length Management Company. I followed on from Graham and we managed to get some significant initiatives up and running such as free insulation for the over 60s, planning notice signs, support for vountary Christmas Bus services etc . As time went on it became more difficult working with the Lib Dems and they were obviously running out of steam and were cracking under the strain of relentless pressure from Labour and the Tories in Council meetings. We had also had enough and felt we were getting little real progress from working with them by this point and trust was breaking down. If they had survived the 2006 election we decided the price for staying in the shared Lib Dem administration would be high in terms of our policy demands and if they weren't met we would more than happily walk away.
When the Tories came to power our approach was pretty much the same as it would have been for the Lib Dems- the conditions for our support would be pretty high. We are a party of the progressive left and the idea of the Tories running the council did not really appeal to me or our party members. We ended up asking for, among other things, a £21million free insulation scheme to make the rather underpowered Lib Dem inspired Warm Zone scheme actually work. The Tories agreed ( the reasons how and why are another story) but they were as good as their word and our proposal became the properly funded Kirklees Warm Zone. Its been a combination of annoying and amusing since then to watch every Party on the council claim it was down to them. The Tories actually turned out to be not as rabid as they were in opposition and for their first couple of years did a pretty good job before they tore themselves apart trying to make the Building Schools for the future programme build a Birkenshaw High School, against evidence from officers on the educational benefits and additional costs (again another story).

So we come back to where this short tale began with a Labour administration. They were however brought in essentially because the Tories had to be removed. 'Trust' was an issue for us with Labour at the start but so far so good.

If I've learnt anything from the last ten years it is being clear about what you want from politics and make sure your proposals are significant enough to warrant you putting your support behind whichever Party is prepared to put themselves in the Kirklees Cabinet. Not knowing what you want is fatal for politicians they lose direction, focus and become vulnerable to circumstance and crisis. I've seen a Party try to run the Council with no clear programme and you start wondering why they went to all that effort of trying to get elected in the first place.

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