After a discussion about getting more people interested in the work of the council, we then had a debate which one member of the public who did turn up to watch the council meeting described as a "disgrace". It was interesting and I cannot deny I love the cut and thrust of what we do, especially when the council is being political-with-a-capital-P, but this person said the debate was "messy, generally thoughtless and the kind of thing that puts us [ the voter, I assume ] off." I think that was a bit far - after all the debate gave us a very clear insight into the next election.
The motion was one that highlighted positive statements about Sure Start from national politicans (even the Green Party) and suggested that we ought to back the service and refrain from unfair political attacks - such as those parties who might suggest another party wishes to scrap Sure Start because this worries people unncessarily. I don't think anyone expected what came next ...
Cllr Andrew Wiltshire moved a very good speech about the work that Sure Start did. I have to say that I was left bewildered by the response of Labour's Cllr Sue Sands who reeled off a list of clubs that her Sure Start ran citing this as the reason it ought to continue. Great idea; let's share good practice from around the City. Unfortunately Cllr Sands doesn't seem to appreciate the work of Health Visitors quite so much and doesn't see the next to expand their work or to have a multi-agency approach to what Sure Start does. Cllr Ramsay, Green Leader, gave a good speech in favour of the motion - then LibDem Cllr Lubbock (and quite why she was chosen to respond was beyond me) descided to take the motion apart line by line. She didn't appreciate me correcting her every error - including when she criticised the stated aim of Sure Start (as taken from their website). A bizarre moment of my life that one. Lesson 101 of the Council; Whenever you want to oppose a motion but can't work out a decent reason you always say it is "badly written". I'd say her speech was badly written alright. Council Leader Cllr Steve Morphew wanted to know what the Conservatives would change about Sure Start and it was laid out some specifics about changing the role of the Health Visitors, the link to early years education and the role/direction of local services. Not good enough for Cllr Morphew who demands to know more. He is given more. He doesn't like the response so screams that he wasn't given an answer. He was given an answer, he just didn't like it or agree with it. So Cllr Morphew has the words of David Cameron stricken from the motion; quite why is beyond me but never mind. The motion is still passed - yes, the Conservatives still voted for it - and I assume Labour will continue to frighten some very young and very vulnerable voters with this come election time.
I remember letters written by Steve Morphew to the people of Bowthorpe saying that if they didn't vote Labour they wouldn't get new windows in their council homes. They didn't vote Labour but they still got new windows. Maybe we can't believe everything our Council Leader says?
So why do I say that this is a marker for the next General Election? Labour say everything is fine, keep spending chaps and smile for the cameras; the Conservatives want to change and reform our services so they better serve out communities; the LibDems look bewildered; and the Greens had very little indeed to say about the issue.
So could I convince the member of the public of this? No, but they thought none of us came out well. They were annoyed that what should have been a fairly bland political moment was hijacked by Labour. Get used to it, there's plenty of months before the election and I suspect all issues will be subject to this kind of game playing.
Let the political debate begin (we just might want to warn the public first!)