The big day had arrived. After having been in the role of leader designate since 15th April, it was with a huge amount of excitement and sense of relief that the day had arrived when I would officially take up the role of Leader of the Council. In the last few weeks I had been working 12 hour days putting together my new cabinet, thinking through strategies and being briefed by senior officers on the many responsibilities that the leader has.
I seemed to have far too many papers, all referenced and collated. I had to buy a new pilots case especially for the day as my previous briefcase was simply not big enough. Still, prior planning prevents poor performance. All went well to begin with. Agenda items 1 – 6 witnessed the new Chairman, John Powley take over proceedings supported by his new deputy Kevin Reynolds. Agenda item 7 was the election, by full council, of me to leader. It is a great honour and I don’t think their is any bigger job in Cambridgeshire. I was proposed by Ian Bates and seconded by Fred Brown. The vote was taken and suddenly I was leader. I rose to make my acceptance speech which gave me the opportunity to thank Jill Tuck for all her efforts over the last 3 years. I was also able to set out my plans which included changing the constitution a little later in the agenda.
Before I say much more, I have to explain about Full Council. It is where the most significant decisions are taken. Cabinet meetings, also held in public, are where the rest of the decisions are taken. For some time papers that have already passed through the cabinet decision making process were being added to full council papers for “information” only. These information only items seem to stretch out the council meeting for as much as an extra 3 hours and have no impact on the people of Cambridgeshire at all. The decisions already taken have been taken. What these information items do is to allow lazy politics to take place. Instead of members engaging with the process where they can affect change, either at the policy development groups (Lib Dems have boycotted for 2 years) or speaking at cabinet these documents encourage opposition members to re-run all the arguments and debates that have already taken place for no benefit for anyone except the person who wants to talk in full council for self publicity reasons. This is the worse kind of politics. It wastes a lot of money, achieves nothing and means that the hard working members of all parties that have engaged with the policy development process have to go through it all again, even though the decision has already been made and won’t be reversed.
So, in short, my constitutional changes were going to make the council more efficient, save a lot of senior officers time, remove duplication and force the Lib Dems to engage with the council on behalf of their voters. Shock horror, they were all upset. So upset that I had to sit in the chamber and absorb nearly 2 hours of personal abuse including being likened to a nazi in the Germany of the 1930’s. My comfort was that if all they could do was to abuse me personally then they were not thinking about the policies. I guess the title Liberal does not apply to the words they use or their thinking.
I didn’t witness any Lib Dems rolling on the floor screaming but they were indicating that it “was not fair” and then continued the childish theme outside of Shire Hall by standing with duct tape across their mouths. They were trying to infer I had in some way gagged them because oral questions were to be limited to one hour. The comments of readers of the CEN were interesting. The vast majority wanted the efficiencies I put through and thought the Lib Dems were childish and self publicists. This really back fired on them. Putting to one side all the other points in the councils process where they can ask questions if they had stopped and thought rather than “kicking off ” they would have realised that the one hour limitation had already existed and I had done nothing to change it.
Interestingly, a number of Lib Dems have spoken to me since and privately agreed with the changes. It seems that in the hot house of the chamber they are more interested in publicity than making things better for the people of Cambridgeshire. Perpetual opposition must do this to a party.
In summary, I want to make things more efficient, focus on the people of Cambridgeshire and not councillors and the Lib Dems don’t. You decide.