Sunday, 19 February 2012

Peter Hain and Labour Could Not Be More Wrong

Apparently the former Welsh Secretary Peter Hain will attack independent councillors at today's Welsh Labour conference in Cardiff, saying they have "no manifesto, no plan and no clue - many of them (are) closet Tories".

Well, we can safely titter about the "closet Tories" reference from a spokesman for a party that introduced tuition fees, wanted to privatise the Royal Mail and recently all but backed the current government's austerity programme, but it is the "no clue" suggestion that intrigues me. It is, of course, a classic expression of the more or less universally held view amongst Labour Party apologists that politicians in general and Labour politicians in particular are "experts" in a field of activity that is too complex for "ordinary" people to grasp.

Let us consider one local example of how the "clueless" independents measure up to the Labour elite. The proposed closure of the St. John's Community Centre.

Now I'm not going to take a personal swipe at the Lead Member, who is also a ward member for Syon in which the Centre is situated, because I believe he genuinely worked hard on behalf of local people to achieve what would appear, at least for now, to be a more or less satisfactory outcome for the Centre and for the community that uses it. But maybe we should take a closer look at quite how this successful outcome was delivered.

First the impending closure is announced "subject to consultation". An economic case for closure, of sorts, is mooted. It is, apparently, losing money and the building is in need of repair. Fellow Labour councillors protest that the closure is necessary "to protect frontline services" (which in the view of the community the Centre is). Residents, organised by former independent councillors, march in protest. The Lead Member attends the march to find out what is going on and to meet and take questions from members of the public. The Lead Member then promises to go back to his officers and find out more information (during the course of all this activity it was brought to the Lead Member's attention by the community itself that former independent councillors had managed to set aside £250,000 precisely to fund the required repairs, a fact that not only officers but apparently also his own party colleagues had not bothered to share with him). Unable to get a response from his own officers, he is compelled to make a Freedom of Information Request to get an answer out of them. He gets an answer. There is, after all, no economic case for closure. The Centre will not be closed after all.

Compare this with the actions of independent ICG councillors during the previous administration.

Officers proposed the closure and sale of the property to the Conservative Lead Member, who presented it to his ICG colleagues for consideration. The ICG said no. Discussion over, proposal shelved.

The point of this post is not to suggest that the Labour Lead Member is in any way less talented, nor indeed less committed, than the ICG councillors who proceeded him. It is to demonstrate that councillors whose first allegiance is to a political party cannot, with the best will in the world, compete with decent independent councillors, because their hands are completely tied by the very system of which they, by their own choice, are locked into.

Peter Hain, in other words, is talking complete and utter tosh. But then what does he care? His concern begins and ends with achieving political power for his organisation. For him, as with them, that is the end as well as the means.

The people of Wales suffer as a consequence. But then what does it matter? They don't have a clue, after all.

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