Saturday, 8 June 2013

Why Does Labour Want the ICG to Contest the 2014 Local Elections?

It might seem an odd proposition on the surface of it. After all, in every local election since 1998 in Isleworth, and since 2002 in Syon, the Independent Community Group (ICG) has been Labour’s closest competitor, either winning the seats or running Labour a close second. Both wards being safely Labour in terms of the conventional Labour-Tory dichotomy, the logic of the situation might suggest that we are an opponent they could do without.

But logic in politics can be more convoluted than it is in other areas of life and sometimes, like in the Guinness advert, things aren’t always as they seem.

I have never considered myself to be na├»ve, but in respect of the 2010 local elections I made two simplistic assumptions – one just prior to the contest and one immediately after – the clumsiness of which taught me that my talents for reading and interpreting political events are nowhere close to being as flawless as I had hitherto liked to believe.

The first, which I have already documented elsewhere, was my costly miscalculation that the Conservatives, having been our partners in what to begin with at least had been an easy coalition, would see the benefit in not stepping on our toes in our two target wards (which from their own perspective were unwinnable). Whilst we all naturally understood their preference for an all-out Conservative administration we figured they would view the continuation of the coalition as a next-best option should they fail to achieve that.

What actually happened was that the Conservatives were so convinced they were on the cusp of an historic all-out victory that they consciously sought to oust the community councillors in Isleworth and Syon and to replace them with Labour ones, figuring that by so doing they would be creating for themselves a softer opposition for the four years of overall Conservative control that were to follow. This didn’t necessitate any kind of formal alliance with Labour. The coincidence of a natural convergence of interests was quite enough to do the trick.

The second miscalculation came in the immediate aftermath of our election defeat. Mindful of the fact that the ICG had commanded the votes of some 4000 people over three wards even in defeat, and aware that a new wave of Labour councillors in Isleworth would be looking to make their own mark, in their own style, on the communities they had been entrusted to serve, I simply assumed that they would be keen to engage with those thousands of people who had supported and voted for us, and that an opportunity had arisen, albeit in circumstances that we would have preferred not to have existed, for some kind of reappraisal of the relationship between Labour and the local community movement.

This assumption was made especially in consideration of the fact that our defeat and their victory made it reasonable for Labour to expect that they would be “in charge” as it were. Exhausted and drained after four years of very hard work, punching above our weight as the minority group in a coalition administration, and still if I am honest reeling from the demoralising effects of the Conservative betrayal, I do not believe the ICG’s price would have been a high one. Speaking strictly for myself, at that time I would have settled for more or less any arrangement that would have allowed me to walk away from the whole thing with my honour intact.

So I’ll admit it shocked me a tad to discover that Labour had other ideas. “Why should they (the new councillors) want to work with you?” they asked us on a local online forum, and to emphasise the point they hand-delivered a limited number of uniquely unpleasant leaflets to local residents containing little other than personal attacks on myself and other ICG personnel.

In the meantime we came under attack from a former Labour councillor who had clearly assumed, for reasons which were not explained, that the ICG would simply disappear following our defeat, and who seemed to take offence from the fact that members of a community group should continue to attend meetings and events in the community!

This, it would appear, was to be the basis of Labour’s continued problem with the situation as it had turned out, and the reason why our assumption – my assumption – that the party would want to reach an accommodation with our supporters turned out to be unsound. To put it quite simply and bluntly, they didn’t want any organised community activity on “their” patch. Fortified, no doubt, by tales of how things were in the good old days, they wanted complete control of our community life and expected it as the spoils of their victory. Such an outcome, of course, would have required the ICG to have vanished completely from the face of the Earth.

This then explains the spluttering anger of the former councillor as it eventually dawned on her that, election victory notwithstanding, things would never be permitted to revert to how they had been in her day, with every single “community” initiative having to be either dominated, or smothered, by members of her party. The new councillors, by contrast, were going to have to operate within a liberated environment.

It would seem to me that such is Labour’s determination to wield absolute power over our community that it is prepared to take the risk of losing the seats it gained in 2010 rather than continue to suffer the indignity of having to treat with civic leaders and free residents’ groups on anything approaching equal terms. The assumption being made now, just as it was in 2010, is that if the ICG fights the next election and loses we will all just mysteriously go away.

I have not mentioned outside influences, as I have in other articles, and there is a reason for this. Although in spite of Labour’s smirking protestations they certainly do exist, they could surely not be decisive in determining Labour’s local strategy without a good deal of willingness on the part of the local party.

I believe that if the ICG contests the local elections next year it will have a very good chance of recapturing the seats it lost. But if it doesn’t, let me be clear – we will be in the exact same situation that we are today. The ICG is here to stay, and those who care for the dignity and the well-being of our community will never roll over and die.