There are certain advantages to being a councillor on a very small Parish Council with an equally small budget. For one thing, the things you consider are not likely to be hugely contentious. You’re hardly going to argue about whether or not to maintain the play area, or the streetlights. It’s more likely that disagreement is personal, rather than political, given that party politics seldom impinges on micro-councils. And, heavens knows, a disagreement in a small village is likely to be as much about personalities as about strategy. People bring their agendas with them when they run for public office, and whilst that’s usually not a problem - you can often give them responsibility for that aspect of the Council’s activity - you occasionally get someone whose agenda is narrowly focussed on their own regard.
I’m lucky in that, whilst my colleagues have issues that motivate them to get involved, all of them work for the best interests of the village and its residents. And, as a result, we can discuss any given issue with mutual respect and common purpose. What that means is that, if we don’t entirely agree, we can reach a mutually acceptable compromise without any difficulty.
It seems to get harder to do that the further up the political ladder you get. Compromise increasingly seems to be taken by others as a sign of weakness and grounds to seek further concessions. If I win, you have to be seen to have lost, a stance which discourages anyone from taking the first step and exacerbates the confrontational nature of our politics.
You could reasonably argue that, as a Liberal Democrat, I would say that. A member of Britain’s perennially third placed political party, burned by the coalition years (even as I still believe it was the right thing to do), our position near the pivot point in the political spectrum means that broad-based political endeavour probably means that we should have a part to play regardless of which of the two bloc parties are in power. Our voting system means that, in reality, that isn’t how it actually works.
But I believe in broad-based political and societal change and it’s harder to achieve that if a minority can, and does, impose its will on a nation. It’s why I believe in fairer voting, in devolution of power to states, regions, communities, in transparency in government and a whole bunch of things that only seem to matter to people who understand how government works and see the possibilities.
That also makes me a bit of an idealist. Not, I hasten to add, in a naïve way but in terms of how a public body should operate. I’m not a policy dogmatist - I simply think that better decisions are made when the process is transparent and inclusive. It means telling people what is happening and why, being willing to justify your stance. I actually believe that, by operating in such a way, you get better governance.
It does make you more vulnerable as a civic leader. You have to be consistent in terms of your approach. But, in the long run, it’s probably better to adhere to a set of principles that reflects who you are and the community you hope to represent.