Among members of the local Labour Party, discussion took place of whether the party should field candidates in the elections for a town council in May. In small shire towns, town councils are comparable with the parish councils in the villages, they are the lowest tier of local government, district and then county councils being superior bodies. The town councils allow a wider candidature, permitting nominations not only for people resident in the town, but also from those who work in it and those who live within a three mile radius.
As with the parish councils, the elections for town councils have tended to be bodies where political parties have not engaged, so it was with a sense of hesitancy that some members considered the idea of not just nominating candidates, but engaging in an election campaign at such a local level.
Yet, while small town council business might have been free of political parties, to suggest it was free of politics would be naive in the extreme. Each member of such a council will have explicitly political views on the use of public space and public resources, each will have attitudes on the place of private investment and private ownership. The notion that the lowest tier of local government is a place free of the “dirty” business of party politics would probably not withstand a close examination of councillors and their stances on various issues. The label “independent” tends to be assumed by those who believe to be conservative with a small “c” means being politically non-partisan and who think that they are above the divisions of party politics.
If Labour Party politics is about having a different worldview, if it is about seeking the values of community and commonwealth in the public sphere, then that politics must inform attitudes towards the policies that affect public life.
To promote Labour candidates at a town council level is not to politicise a non-political arena, it is to recognise that politics is already present in such places and to promote political policies that are enunciated with clarity. Leaving the field open only to those who declare no party allegiance is to concede that it is reasonable for people to vote without knowing the policies for which they are voting.
The nomination of Labour candidates will undoubtedly bring complaints that such councils should be left “politics-free,” as if a politics-free council would not be a contradiction in terms. Complaints from “independents” might be met with questions as to from what they are independent, it is certainly not from being conservative, however large that initial “c” may be.