Because it’s life!
I received a comment from a regular reader just the other day, and from the tone of his mail, it appears as if a political awakening is happening within him.
It was interesting to note your ‘blog’ comments on the current political situation.
Having been involved in ‘residents group’ politics for a few years now, and having a keen interest in getting rid of these ‘so-called’ Labour characters, I am quite interested in the forthcoming meetings.
I would truly favour ANY advice or comments from someone as experienced and erudite as yourself !
Would I be totally MAD, or could it be a worthwhile experience…. thinking about getting involved with the local politics ?
My advice to him is set out below and it would be a story that I would be willing to tell anybody, politics is nothing special, it is not set aside for a “special” group of people, it is not a “special” science or art, it is the humdrum of ordinary life, played out by ordinary people. It is something that we should all take an active interest in, it determines the future for ourselves and our children.
This was my reply -
Having been a member of two political groups in this town, I have to say that I achieved what I set out to do, more by sheer bloody mindedness than design, and that one of those groups was easier to influence than the other!
On the other hand, my time spent as a member of our local Council was extremely frustrating because, as an opposition member, your powers of influence are much restricted. I did have some successes, but not as many as I would have liked. I would have had much better success representing the Labour Party, and I have been asked! However, my childhood and teenage experiences coloured my views for the rest of my life (understandable, considering the depravations of living in John Williamson Street until 1972), so much so that I cannot trust any of the motives of our kith and kin who represent us on the present Council.
I was a member of the Conservative Party for some time, and believe it or not, they are made up of pretty ordinary folk in this town, let’s face it there isn’t much “blue blood” around here! There were no rich businessmen or millionaires just honest workaholics who wanted to look after their own affairs without too much interference. also a load of old ladies who liked to lunch in Binns and lick the back of envelopes at election time (you can’t manage without these people!).
However, they had a set way of doing things and were very resistant to change! It didn’t sit too well with me, and I found it difficult to move things in my direction.
I did manage. as an agent, to get a Conservative elected to the old Tyne and Wear County Council in the Rekendyke Ward, ousting Billy Malcolm who had represented it from the outset (both of his sons are Labour Councillors now, and are quite unlike their father), this was an incredible achievement! The streets around the riverside and Chichester and Laygate were full of ingrained, hereditary Labour supporters and it caused quite a shock when he lost his seat!
Thus, I was approached by the South Shields Progressive Association and agreed to fight a seat against Elizabeth Diamond in the old Brinkburn Ward, I lost by a nailbiting 51 votes, she fainted and required medical attention, and then went on to forecast my election the following year! She was a reasonably “good apple”. I won in Beacon and Bents by a 101 votes against strong opposition from both Labour and the then new Social Democrats, four years later I lost the seat by 53 votes to the Liberal Democrats, hey ho!
The interesting thing was, that the Progressives were only interested in one thing; did you stand for the views of South Shields people? They weren’t interested in my former history in the Tory Party, they were interested in taking a commonsense viewpoint to local finances and local needs, they wanted to provide services that people wanted at an affordable price.They also asked if I was intending to claim expense allowances if I was elected (the policy was to ALWAYS do without these expenses), hence I took my place at a time when Labour was hard pushed but only JUST formed a majority.
Party politics were not introduced to this town until 1945 following the ending of the Second World War, prior to then local dignitaries and businessmen offered themselves for election on a “free of charge” basis. the Labour Party decided to field candidates in 1945 and the businessmen formed the Rent and Ratepayers Association, this body eventually became the South Shields Progressive Association. The Progressives held power from 1950 until 1965 and from 1968 until 1978. They have always been a broad church encompassing many views, but with an ability to reach a consensus, this is what appealed to me.
Politics is the art of the possible, it’s about people and engaging them, it’s about reaching agreements and consensus, and also about speaking your mind, even when it’s out of step with the majority! You stand or fall according to the popularity of your views.It’s about networking, being able to listen to people effectively, and being able to articulate their wishes and demands, when perhaps they feel less able to do it themselves. It’s an everyday thing about how you would like life to go on. It’s the banter of the “barbour’s chair”, it can be rewarding, but if your character isn’t strong enough it can feel like a continual uphill struggle.
I would encourage anyone who has an interest in life and their local community to take whatever active part that they can, local communities will always need someone to represent them and our democracy requires that ordinary people take an active interest in their affairs. Once you have formulated your viewpoints on life you can decide which organisation best mirrors those views, Go ahead and join it, meet new people, share your views, and begin to take a more deliberate part in how are ordinary lives are shaped and governed.
For many years, since 1984, politics took such a back seat in my life that I almost forgot that it existed. The beginnings of a new family unit, two young children and a wife, forced me to think again about our life and their future, it was this that reawakened my interest in local affairs, along with the ever increasing portion of my wage which goes directly to South Tyneside Council and gets frittered away and wasted every year. My involvement will probably increase in the not too distant future.
There is nothing “mad” about getting involved, if you feel it is the right thing to do, then it probably is the most “right” thing you ever decided upon, go ahead and do it! You are only participating in “real life” for everyone!
So, if you ever have one of those moments when you ponder a little involvement in your local political affairs, don’t be afraid to follow your instincts. Your local political parties and independant groupings consist of nothing more than people like you or me, there is nothing to fear, so find out where they are, give them a ring, go along a meet them – it might change more than just YOUR life!