With “power”, and especially power that has been sought and strived for through whatever means it is achieved comes responsibility and in politics more than any other walk of life it comes with criticism and attack from the public and opposition if you decide to surround yourself with sycophants, isolate yourself from the public and govern by using rewards and patronage as the main means of keeping your members under control.
It is exactly the kind of control that the Leader of the Labour Group on the Northampton Borough Council, Cllr Terry Wire refers to when in calling for an open public meeting to discuss the bus station proposals he says,
“I’ll be honest; this is the worse style managed council in the County”
An example of what he means is the last Cabinet meeting where we are told from very reliable sources that the ‘pre-Cabinet’ meeting lasted an hour and a half at which the Leader of the Council organised the rehearsal of how the meeting was going to be presented.
And just like putting on a play in a theatre where the rehearsals always take longer than the production the Cabinet 90 minutes rehearsal delivered a 13 minutes production.
The difference of course is that when members of the public and opposition speak at Cabinet meetings there it is naturally expected that there will be some interaction. In stage managing and isolating himself from such interaction Cllr David Mackintosh understandably and quite correctly has come in for sustained criticism.
So why does he and the Conservative administration carry on with the strategy?
It can only be in my view that unlike previous leaders that they feel uncertain about the direction they are taking the town in, a direction that it appears is inexorably through the cutting and transferring of services moving towards a Northamptonshire County Unitary Council where the people of Northampton will no longer decide who and what they want for themselves and their families.
It is also a style of “managed leadership” that we see in many ‘elected dictatorships’ no matter how benevolent across the world, where those in the party have to toe the line come what may.
On the positive side for the administration we are told by the Conservative leader that all of the Borough Councillors are “wholly united” behind his strategy.
Importantly it demonstrates a weakness in both political and moral authority if they feel unable and threatened by listening to opposing views, believing that they and only they know what is right, which is an approach that’ll inevitably damage the lives for the majority of the people in Northampton through polices designed to stifle debate whilst looking after their ‘friends’.
Never was it more noticeable than at the recent full Council meeting when the Conservatives refused to allow a debate on the plight facing our elderly and vulnerable sheltered housing residents and instead called for an immediate vote on the motion before Council and then voted against it.
Add that to the recent senior Northampton Conservative members statement that people who have voiced their concerns about the new bus station, cuts to PCSO’s, cuts to CCTV, cuts to NHS, and the switching off of over 50% of the streetlights should “give it a rest” and you can see why the Leader who actually is the person who authorises all Conservative statements coming out of the Guildhall is facing constant criticism.
Cllr David Mackintosh says he prefers to talk to people on a one-to-one basis; of course he does as would anyone who is trying to use stealth to slip through unpopular policies. The problem of course is that Northampton has a population of almost 250,000, with 90,000 householders who want to be listened too and given the opportunity to voice their opinion, ask questions and receive answers.
Once again the lack of willingness to listen to people was highlighted at the recent Council when a Cabinet member said in response to an opposition question “you could have phoned me, my door is always open and you didn’t need to bring this to full council” a statement that brought a round of applause from her Conservative Colleagues.
It was however immediately followed by Conservative Councillors asking Conservative Cabinet members questions indicating that the door is not even always open to members of their own “wholly united” group.
Sadly Cllr David Mackintosh when he said in a local newspaper “
“On a personal level sometimes the negativity can get overwhelming especially with the personal level of criticism which makes me feel under constant attack.”
Only a leader who controls all aspects of his group’s policy decisions and a group who doesn’t engage in collective responsibility could take criticism of those policies as a personal affront.
It is unfortunate but in my experience of life in different professional roles it becomes less overwhelming when you listen to people, share responsibility and work with people and colleagues instead of believing that you have to be in absolute control of everything.
Where the greatest problem will come from is when the ‘wholly united’ intelligent and worthy members of the Conservative group start to question the approach which appears to demonstrate a real lack of understanding the difference between a P.R marketing style and actual leadership.
The Local Election results will not have helped and many Northampton Conservatives who are or who hold ambitions to be Conservative County Councillors next year will undoubtedly and quite correctly be looking over their shoulders in the coming months.
Northampton Labour is the only party who are Listening to Northampton and in the recent alternative Borough Council Budget, (voted out by the Conservatives) demonstrated that they will always put people first and spend tax payer’s money on front line services not as the Conservatives have on pet projects.