Let's talk about... being Independent

  Posted: 28.04.21 at 08:29 by Alastair McCraw

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When I first stood for election for Parish Council 10 years ago, it was as myself, an Independent. We all did. Who needs parties at a Parish Council? We’re all working for our community and we’re all grown-ups. I’ve never been a member of any party, so when in 2015 I decided to continue my fight against the Brantham Regeneration Area plans I knew I would be an Independent candidate for Babergh.

In my view, what applied at Parish could work at District. Having watched some of the antics and games played as a result of party politics over the years, I don’t think I was wrong.

A number of people doubted that an Independent Candidate would receive enough votes to be taken seriously, but I worked hard, explained myself and, to the surprise of many, I topped the poll in a two-member ward.

It was only after the election that I discovered that Derek Davis from the Berners Ward had also won a seat standing as an Independent. David Rose at Holbrook was also re-elected. There’s quite a tradition of Independent minds on the Shotley Peninsula. Derek, I, and several other Independents under Clive Arthey in fact formed the main opposition group at Babergh.

I can tell you now, that being in opposition ‘sucks’ (apologies for the expression). A large Conservative majority were able to give us what is known as the ‘mushroom’ treatment. This involves being kept in the dark a lot of the time. We struggled on. Derek and I both got properly involved in the work of a council, in committees, in full Council, at briefings, in working groups. I think we built respect for those efforts, by being competent and committed. By the end of that term, Derek was the only non-Conservative on the Cabinet and I was chairing the Overview and Scrutiny committee. These were the only comparable non-administration appointments. It appeared Independents could make a difference, and not just in their wards, even in the most adverse circumstances.

I didn’t hear anybody questioning the value of a truly Independent approach in the 2019 election though. By that time, several conservative members, perhaps tired of being dictated to by their own leaders or being whipped to vote against their wishes had become Independents and stood for election as such. Four of those were elected, Derek and I received massive support in our new wards and the new Independent Group held the balance of power in the new council.

Nobody should be seeking election with the aim of being in opposition. It’s easier, in some ways, to be able to criticise for political purposes, but it’s not responsible to the voters. The solution was to form an administration split between the Conservatives (Leader and three other Cabinet members), the Independents (Deputy Leader, Chairman and two other Cabinet positions), and Liberal Democrats (One Cabinet member). That’s very much a Babergh tradition, having no overall control. Here, 26 out of 32 members had involvement in the government of the Council. It has been a responsible approach that has brought stability at a time when Covid-19 meant we needed it most.

Now, for the 2021 County Council elections on May 6th, there are a larger number of Independent candidates for County divisions within the Babergh area. Mark Hurley for Samford is a new candidate, as I was in 2015. As a teacher, he has a lot of experience to offer on Education. Kathryn Grandon at Hadleigh and Margaret Maybury at Sudbury East were once Conservatives. Trevor Cresswell in Sudbury has left the Labour Group at Babergh, joined us, and is standing as such for County. Luke Cresswell, a former Labour councillor, is also standing in Sudbury East. Richard Kemp of Melford has been a stalwart Independent veteran at both Babergh and Suffolk. I am, of course, the Independent Candidate for the Peninsula.

What I’m describing here isn’t a local oddity, a one off here and there. It’s a Trend! The same has happened across the country. Independent Councillors, by hard work and example, are encouraging more people to reject narrow party thinking and be Independent Councillors, sometimes on Independent administrations.

My aim over the last 10 years, in all my work and effort, is to be the councillor I would want myself. I look to be responsive and responsible, informed and informing, transparent without betraying confidences, diligent in my work, to always look for local improvements where I can encourage and achieve them. It isn’t easy. Councillors become a target, as does anybody who acts or commits these days. It comes with the job. We must accept that cynicism exists. We must overcome it by challenging some assumptions, by showing a real commitment to public service, and by demonstrating integrity and honesty in our actions and dealings. In my own case, I confess, this means I’m a bit boring sometimes.

I made the deliberate choice NOT to canvass during this election. It doesn’t seem very clever to me to risk being a means on any transmission of Covid-19 by travelling from door to door. A leaflet is safe. Face to face? Not so much. I’d like to speak to more of you and anybody may phone or email me with their questions and concerns, I’m glad to say that many have.

I won’t tell you how to use your vote or why, or what its value might be. I will ASK for your vote as a fit, willing candidate with both the ability and a clear idea of how to be a good councillor on your behalf. Casting that vote is your responsibility. I have never in my life failed to use mine. The only wasted votes are the ones never used.

This article is one of a series available on my Facebook and Peninsula Nub News. So far, ‘Let’s Talk About’ has covered, Water, Education, Covid Testing, Money, and this article, as well as my regular Parish Reports to Brantham Ward and numerous updates on a daily basis.

Seek and you will find.

Alastair McCraw. Independent Candidate for Peninsula Division, SCC.
07812 564188.

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