John's Jottings for August 2006

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

Does the Tail Wag the Dog?

I think we all accept that it is necessary for local Councillors to be seen around, known about, and as part of this to appear in the local media when appropriate. It is as important for the public-at-large to gain some idea of what their local elected representatives are doing, and from a non-party source, as it is for Members of Parliament to be seen in this way.

Okay, fair enough so far.

There are broadly two approaches to this issue of public visibility that I have encountered, which (I must be honest about) didn't exactly surprise me. One is to use media opportunities to inform people about an issue, and this can include approaching the media directly on that subject. The other is to use an issue (sometimes manufactured or twisted somehow) as a means to achieving one's own publicity.

In my ward, it would be obvious to anyone who researched this whole topic that we are strictly in the former category at all times. We don't seek publicity, always inform, and as far as possible let the residents themselves have first crack at being quoted and photographed in the local newspapers, for example. If invited, we are always there to support our residents at such times, and willingly speak to the reporter if asked. Our policy is to offer, not to dominate.

Sadly this approach is not always the case even here in Medway, and an adjacent Rochester ward specialises in using their residents mainly as pawns in pursuit of their own political ambitions, serving only their own ends. There are several examples of this in the last couple of years; and again, anyone with a researcher's eye and experience would easily be able to see this. It is fairly transparent, and also seems to be not uncommon in other Labour-held wards around the country, so is well known in general.

I am not going to list these matters here (I have already covered a couple of them in earlier Jottings columns, for any reader who wishes to get a feel for what I mean) but I think anyone who regularly reads the local newspaper will probably already have a good idea of what I am on about!

Of course, the whole premise of this tail-wagging-dog methodology is that enough people will be taken in by it to ensure the perpetrators can be confident of being re-elected. Interestingly, intelligence coming in from this adjacent ward indicates that it isn't working anywhere near as well as the two Labour members expected. People there (and elsewhere!) are waking up to this and other ploys, and that is a healthy thing.

With the next local elections just nine months away, as I write this, the above news will be greatly worrying to those Labour members and their local party. They will be getting more and more desperate as time passes and the election looms ever closer.

What they will then feel they'll have to do will be to step up their self-publicising activities, and will look for issues they can either adopt or manufacture so that they can seem to be active and apparently "supporting their residents". You watch the local press for the next nine months, and see if I'm not right! Will their electors be taken in yet another time, though? It seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, in my ward, we'll continue to play it straight, just as we always have done since Ron and I first stood for election in May 2000. I wonder who will be in, and who will be out, come next May? My strong feeling is that we'll almost certainly still be here, but I think there will be changes next door in Rochester East...

Next time: Putting One's Spokes In