For as long as I can remember my life (like many of us) has been touched by politics, democracy and “events dear boy, events” . I wouldn’t say that I had a political upbringing, but there was always some
strong messages about the importance of voting and understanding what politicians were “doing for us and in our name”.
As a child I remember the excitement of the power cuts under the Heath government, the Lib Lab Pact, Wilson surprisingly leaving Number 10 and the subsequent Winter of Discontent. I may not have understood the political ideologies and decisions behind those events, but they are part of my past and must have sparked some curiosity. Growing up in Sheffield in the 1970s and 1980s certainly fuelled this curiosity. This was a time when the Labour run council had some fame (and notoriety) for some of its policies – the cheapest bus fares in the country being one that everyone reminds me of (like I’d forget) when I say I’m from Sheffield.
Cheap bus fares aside, it was “Rock on the Rates” that I remember. My teenage (and adult) passion was music, punk rock music. It was the collision of my curiosity and my passion that shaped the course of my life from then on – a grand statement, but on reflection true. I was a teenager who was able to see The Damned, The Fall, The UK Subs (I could go on) because the Council put on these free gigs for young people like me. I remember well waiting in line to get my “free” tickets to see bands that I couldn’t afford to see.
Around this time I had a bit of a lightning bolt moment – somebody had made a decision to make that happen. Not exactly rocket science, but enough to have a real impact on me. Politicians had made a decision to give me the chance to do something that was so important to me.
My curiosity with all things democratic and political accelerated – I developed a voracious interest in the world of government and politics. This interest began in the early 1980s and stays with me to this day. When I wasn’t studying politics I was fascinated by the people and events that characterised that period. Labour under Foot, Kinnock and Smith, the SDP, the Thatcher government, inner city riots, the Falklands War, monetarism, the miners strike, Scargill, privatisation, Derek Hatton, yuppies, the Brighton bombing, North Sea oil… I could go on.
At the same time punk music continued to spin on my turntable (CDs don’t feature until much later), with many bands making social comment about the people and their policies that I found myself studying about. I think you’re getting the picture.
I came out of Polytechnic (now there’s a term that dates me) being clear about one thing – I wanted a job that somehow involved making use of all this politics stuff I’d been filling my head with. I wanted to work with these political decision makers, find out more about them and their world. Beyond that, I didn’t have a clue.
It was a Margaret Thatcher policy that I have to thank for getting my foot on the local government ladder. In the late 1980s the Community Charge (aka Poll Tax) came into being. I got a job as a Trainee Revenues Clerk with Kirklees Council in February 1990. Now, I thought, was my chance to get into this political world. Not quite.
Four years!!! later I managed to get a job that gave me the back stage pass to local government politics I had been looking for – Committee Administrator. Since then I have had many roles working with and for politicians in Kirklees. At the moment I am Assistant Head of Policy and Governance.
In terms of this blog, the jobs I have had aren’t important (CV available on request). What matters is the way those experiences have shaped my values, passions and interest. Working closely with councillors at all levels has made me appreciate what they do, why they do it and why local democracy really matters.
Elections, decision making, openness, transparency, representation, governance, scrutiny, accountability, legitimacy, democracy – lots of words, but ones that are important to me. That’s what this blog is about – my take on this world of local democracy and its key players, the councillors. Councillors like the ones who made a decision to allow some kids in Sheffield to see some bands for free.
Finally, the dilemma. I am an officer working for Kirklees Council, and want that to continue thank you very much. I don’t intend to say anything in this blog to compromise the Council’s reputation or my professional position. So you will get my experiences and views (I hope to get yours in return) about loads of stuff, but there will be no politics, no confidences broken and no trusts betrayed.
I also reserve the right to talk about anything else besides. So be warned, there may be rants.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get on with it.