At a time when party politics can appear increasingly toxic, it is a strength of local politics in the City that the vast majority of City councillors do not operate on a party-political basis. It is vital that, on issues affecting local residents and workers, as well as stakeholders in other areas managed by the City Corporation- from housing estates to open spaces – Councillors should be able to work together to determine the best outcomes, irrespective of the differences they may have in political viewpoint and ideology. For members to be subjected to a party-whipping system when determining policy, or for card-carrying electors to be ‘instructed’ to vote on a party-political basis, rather than by determining who they think would best represent them and their local concerns, would be a step in the wrong direction.
The vast majority of the 100 Common Councilmen and 25 Aldermen who make up the City’s Court of Common Council declare themselves as ‘independent’, even if quite a few of them are signed-up members of political parties. And for the purposes of their role in the City Corporation, they are indeed independent – often fiercely so. The advantage of this is that each issue which arises is discussed on its merits; alliances among members are of course formed, but these will change depending on the issue at hand. In my previous stint as a Common Councilman, there were many members with whom I would not agree politically with a capital ‘p’, with whom I do not share a ‘worldview’, but with whom I could work in full accord and effectively in order to address some matter of local concern, from roadworks to almshouse maintenance to oak processionary moth. There was never any question of a ‘party line’, a sense that because A did not agree with B about, say, the benefits of laisser faire capitalism, B could not expect support from A when advocating for traffic lights to be installed at a dangerous junction.
In these days of fragmented politics, with many people feeling disenfranchised – unable to support the manifesto of any political party in its entirety – should not more local councils go the way of the City Corporation and embrace independence for its elected members? Rather than the City Corporation going the way of a tired old system in the way the City Labour Party seems to want it to?
Independence has its costs – particularly at election time, when you don’t have an army of party volunteers to help stuff your envelopes and accompany you in your canvassing. But it’s still worth fighting for.