Good politicians can normally sense the public mood.
Even down at local levels here in South Shields and the wider South Tyneside the more astute political operators tend to have good feel for the public mood, a councillor who is regularly in close contact with his/her constituents develops a great listening ability and acquires the sort of empathy required to know when, how, where and why to make the big decisions. Those who have enjoyed a long welcome with repeated election victories tend to know why they have proved popular and also recognise exactly when they may have become unpopular and risked the wrath of electors.
One such politician was the former leader of South Tyneside Council Paul Waggott, who after a series of miscalculations at least foresaw the change in public mood in his own Fellgate and Hedworth ward as well as within his own local Labour Party, he instinctively knew that the time was right to withdraw from public service. Having made and stuck to his decision he was able to retire from the arena with some honour and dignity, earning the praise of his party colleagues and the wider community after years of public service.
There have been others whose ears have not been so finely tuned in to public opinion and failed to see that after losing the larger part of a sizeable majority that the writing was on the wall, and that their prolonged stay at the crease was not exactly helping to score runs for their team mates. Those who failed to attend the minimum required amount of meetings in South Shields Town Hall come to mind, the late Harry Richardson was removed from the council in the late 1970s and both Mr. and Mrs. Branley suffered the same fates more recently, voters took their revenge by slashing their respective majorities. However Cllr. J. Branley, in particular, does have a good ear, and I’d be very surprised if she is not working hard to persuade the people of Westoe ward that she is still the right sort of councillor to represent them, time and her antennae, will tell her whether or not to seek re-election at the end of her term.
All of this leads me to question the decision taken by the independent councillor David Potts to carry on as a sitting councillor for Cleadon and East Boldon. It was almost five months ago that he announced his intentions to resign from the Conservative Party and from South Tyneside Council, yesterday we learned that he had rescinded his decision to resign his seat and that he intends to carry on as a ward councillor, yet only five days ago writing in this blog Cllr. Potts declared that he was undecided about his future:
“Hi Curly. I really haven’t decided yet. I guess that for some of those who dislike me it must feel like life is full of disappointments.”
He went on to complain about Jarrow Conservative Association’s record of failure and also opined that they have
“some of the most odious people I have ever had the misfortune to meet. It was a daily battle trying to deal with the morons.”
Having originally resigned from the party after calling South Shields’ Labour MP David Miliband a w***er Potts admitted that his condition led him to say “nasty” things that he later regretted. Following his “resignation” other councillors from all sides of the political spectrum wished him well with his recovery and looked for an improvement in his personal condition, Cllr. Iain Malcolm the Labour Leader of South Tyneside Council expressed the hope that one day Cllr. Potts might once more have a contribution to make to political life in the borough, however, I do not believe that any of them envisaged that the contribution might come so soon.
A brief cursory look at the comments appended to the Shields Gazette report indicates that the public mood is not wholly receptive to Cllr. Potts’ decision, and many who I have spoken to over the past 24 hours reflect this mood, admittedly NONE of them live in the Cleadon Village and East Boldon ward. David asserts that he has fair support within the ward:
“I had every intention of resigning, but after the Gazette’s story I was inundated with calls to stay on. I have been deeply humbled by the hundreds of telephone calls and letters of support I have received from residents and business people.”
Perhaps he would care to provide Miss Ward with some of these tetimonials for publication.
I am not personally sure that his judgement on this issue has reflected wider public opinion, nor will it have taken into account the reactions of his former colleagues in the Jarrow Conservative Association, who have yet to make a public statement, but I would urge David to carefully consider his future over the coming three years before coming to any decision to seek re-election, he will not need reminding that he lost a great deal of his previous majority in 2010 and was fortunate to scrape home past Labour’s Joan Atkinson. I would urge him to consider the views of Conservative voters in the ward and decide NOT to stand against any official Conservative candidate in the future, we are now left with only one Tory councillor within the borough and it would be a tragedy to see the party wiped from the political map of South Tyneside, and it would damaged David’s personal esteem further if he put himself in the firing line for opprobrium from the electors of Cleadon Village and East Boldon.
Much as I liked Cllr. Potts’ combative style in the council chamber and his media presence, I have to ask if the recent events in his journey have damaged his political antennae?