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Working with other parties in Local Government – What is it about Labour?

October 3, 2015 10:19 AM
By John Marriott - Lincolnshire County Councillor in Liberal Democrat Voice

John MarriottI have been fortunate, if that's the right word, to have managed to stay a councillor at various levels of local government since 1987. However, with advancing years playing a greater role, I am currently only serving on the Lincolnshire County Council. For over 28 years I have had to work with colleagues of all political persuasion and some who profess to have none, so I have a fair amount of experience of how they react to the fact that I just happen to be a Liberal Democrat. Perhaps 'true blue' Lincolnshire is not a good example from which to draw; but it's all I know.

There is no doubt in my mind that it is far easier to get on with Conservatives than it has ever been my experience with Labour members. Perhaps it is because Tories expect to rule around here and, indeed, since the County Council was established as a local authority in 1973, until two years ago, only once before have the Tories failed to form an majority administration, namely between 1993 and 1997 when Labour and Lib Dems ran the show. Although I was only a humble Town and District Councillor at that time, I do recall talking to my County Council colleagues and being told what hard work it was trying to get agreement from the larger Labour group.

Move forward some forty years and, as part of an administration consisting of 36 Conservatives, 4 Lib Dems and 3 Independents, I have to say that we non Tories are unfailingly treated with courtesy and respect at all times. I am not so naive as not to comprehend that our votes are needed; but, even when the Tories were running things alone up to 2013 the same respect etc. was accorded. Why, our Lib Dem group even managed to get the support of the ruling group for at least two motions, one on reforming local government finance and one on reforming local government structure. I can honestly say that not once did the Labour Group support anything we put forward.

I don't know what is in the Labour DNA but they seem incapable around here of ever admitting that someone else might have an idea which is worth supporting. It seems that, if it didn't come from them, you can forget it! In some ways you have to admire their tribalism; but it can often stand in the way of progress. I even wonder sometimes whether they take their orders from the national party rather than have the confidence to put forward ideas generated from their own caucus.

The more ardent appear to have an atavistic hatred and suspicion of 'Liberals' as we are often called, and particularly those of us who, in addition to being members of the Liberal Party, also joined those renegades, the SDP. If those who oppose the Conservatives ever do mount a challenge, a form of modus vivendi must be found. From my experience and from the recent utterances of the new Deputy leader of the Labour Party, it won't be easy.

* John Marriott is a Liberal Democrat councillor from Lincolnshire