Thursday, 2 September 2010

ICG must be more than a localised anti-Labour pressure group - a personal viewpoint

It is common knowledge that the ICG was launched back in 1994 as a residents' response to the controlling influence that the Labour administration at the London Borough of Hounslow then enjoyed over every aspect of organised community life in what was then the electoral ward of Isleworth South.

In those days it was to all intents and purposes obligatory for amenity groups, civic societies and residents' associations to congest their top tables with Labour politicians, apparatchiks who understood that their brief was to represent the party interest at all times, and to pursue the party objective from within whichever host body they had managed to worm their way into. There was never much attempt made to conceal what was going on. Labour were the community's lords and masters and it was generally understood that non-compliance would inevitably lead to the full weight of the local establishment being brought down upon transgressors and, in all likelihood, offending associations and groups finding themselves being strangled out of existence by fair means or foul, with a marked preference for the latter.

Things have moved on today. After twelve years of ICG representation in Isleworth and four years in Syon residents' groups enjoy relative freedom of association even under a new Labour administration. Our community would never tolerate a return to the bad old ways in spite of a few damp and doomed recent efforts on the part of certain of the new councillors to dictate to local groups whom they may or may not associate with. On the community front, ICG members should recognise with some pride that they have changed the rules of engagement for good.

Notwithstanding these entirely positive developments it is understandable that ICG members should continue to be driven to anger by some of the antics of their traditional adversary. When we read the Labour election leaflets back in April promising potential voters that they would put 100 new uniformed officers onto the streets of "this area" (undefined) and clearly worded in such a way as to lead the public to believe they meant police officers, we knew full well that a confidence trick was being pulled on the voting public. The ink had barely dried on the ballot papers before all was revealed - the officers in question would be council officers, and the reference to "new uniformed officers" actually meant that existing officers would be issued with new uniforms (well we didn't actually use the word "police" officers, did we? Tee hee, giggle giggle).

Those of us who contested Isleworth ward and had the dubious pleasure of reading a leaflet from an Ivybridge-based Labour supporter (actually a former ICG member with the morals of a rattlesnake who would appear to have defected upon the promise of some personal reward) claiming to have attended an ICG Committee meeting at which plans to sell off local authority housing stock were said to have been discussed - a claim which was a complete fabrication as no such meeting or discussion had ever taken place - are entitled to feel aggrieved.

I have still not received an apology, and frankly don't expect one, from the local Labour Party Chair for the lie contained in a leaflet issued in his name that I own a holiday home in Portugal when he knows full well the truth is that, unlike him, I don't even own the roof over my own head.

But the fact is that, whatever we may think of their methods and their morals, the Labour Party won the election and did so by a fairly convincing margin. Yes, we can with justification point to the exceptional circumstances under which the election was fought and the fact that our own vote actually increased significantly despite our defeat. But we must accept the verdict all the same, and look not to what might have been but to the future.

That is why I think it would be a mistake, both tactically and ethically, for our members to attack the new administration gratuitously without some acknowledgement of its right to a "bedding in" period, or recognition that it might - just might - be prepared to learn from some of its previous errors. This mistake is in my view compounded when criticism of the new administration comes accompanied by complete silence over the appalling treatment we received at the hands of our own so-called partners during the later days of the coalition (I happen to think that for the first two to two and a half years the arrangement worked rather well and demonstrated the value of trust in any partnership).

I have already drawn attention on this blog to the fact that, even whilst we were in coalition, at least three members of the Community Group on the local authority were approached by the Conservatives and asked to defect to them. I have no doubt that all those approached are bright enough to understand that this attempt had precious little to do with their own talents being sought after (although all three were very talented councillors), but was instead simply an attempt to actually use the cover provided by the coalition to undermine the ICG as an organisation and to step into our shoes in Isleworth and Syon wards.

This is what you get when you treat with big party politicians. The robotic allegiance to a rosette which leads them to favour a bad councillor sporting a particular colour over a good councillor sporting another is present on both sides of the chamber. Sometimes there is not even any logic to what is going on - on several occasions a good working relationship was thrown into jeopardy with no obvious benefit to be gained from doing so. The fable of The Frog and The Scorpion frequently presents itself when one is dealing with the political big boys. They do it because it is what they do.

As I have previously indicated the ICG has yet to decide what it is going to do, elections wise, in the future. Speaking personally, when we say we want to give the new administration a fair opportunity to prove itself I believe we should mean it. But if we do decide to continue along the electoral path we will need to give some thought to what we would want to achieve from having ICG councillors re-elected to office. How would we use the balance of power from opposition for the benefit of our residents? What would be the role of our councillors under the different circumstances in which they would find themselves?

For me all roads lead to the ideal of a third power in local politics (although I like it I avoid the term "third force" as it has reactionary connotations in French, South African and Northern Irish history). Such a power could probably not, in my view, involve one organised party but rather an agreement between several smaller groups that some level of common effort and pooling of resources is desirable. We need to be in a position to confront big party politics all across the borough with a view to seeking real culture change at the Civic Centre.

And we need to do it soon. The big parties will both know that if they can sustain their carve-up for another election the momentum that has sustained the ICG and other local groups and parties may not be maintained. For them to move into Syon, Isleworth and other areas formerly represented by vibrant small parties or independent groups and to smother our communities once again with their bland, anodyne brand of politics, devoid of imagination and lacking in any kind of vision, would be an absolute tragedy after everything we have been through.

It is my sincerely held view that the ICG needs to think hard about where it stands, if indeed it stands at all, in the the vast gladiatorial arena that is our local politics. Yes, we should certainly continue to expose the shortcomings of our traditional Labour adversary, particularly now that it is in office and its words and actions impact on the lives of every member of our community. But we need also to accept that our enemy's enemy is not always our friend and that in the wider scheme of things there is actually some convergence of interest between the big players who may on the surface of it appear to be inveterate rivals, interest which both will be at pains to conserve.

We are the same ICG, with the same objectives, as we have always been but sometimes the world about us changes and we need to move on and adopt new strategies to confront new challenges.


nobody's bitch said...

The ICG has always had to fight on at least two fronts, like you say other than for the first two or so of the coalition years.

The 1997 Isleworth North by-election saw more attacks on the ICG from the Tories than it did from Labour and the same happened again at Hounslow South in 2002.

Anyone who thinks the ICG have changed for the worse or lost their way in some way because they refuse to be the Tories bitch is a f***ing ignorant cretin of the very highest and widest order. Is anybody in your group that simple that their ass can be bought with a bit of flattery?

All power to the "third force" idea, it is the only intelligent and feasible option post-coalition. Six ICG councillors with no power would be a terrible diappointment after the heady days of 2006-2008.

Phil Andrews said...

Nobody's Bitch

All the members who were approached rebuffed the offer and remained with the ICG, so it would not be right or fair to criticise them on that score. Any fault lies with those who made the approach and who in doing so flagrantly tried to undermine the ICG at a time when we were supposed to be in coalition with them.

Nobody has suggested the ICG has "changed" or "lost its way" as a result of having spoken out about these events. It would be a betrayal of our members, supporters and voters not to have done so.

My reference was intended to be hypothetical, apologies if that wasn't made clear.