I’ve always been sceptical about the amount of publicity that sometimes gets accorded to Councillors who resign in protest at their Party’s national policies. Inevitably such decisions are often complicated by personal and local issues at their council, and the resignation of a councillor doesn’t really have any impact on Ministers’ decisions.
That’s not to say that such resignations lack the capacity to be politically embarrassing, of course. All parties have over-indulged in crowing about defections to them from their opponents, which has resulted in any defection getting national media attention regardless of its actual importance.
It must be quite frustrating for MPs who are making good points about important legislation to find their media profile in the doldrums while unheard-of councillors end up in the national press because they’ve changed the colour of their rosette.
Take Councillor Elaine Costigan, for example. A few days ago she left the Conservative Group on Sandwell Council and joined Labour. She was the Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group, but let’s put that into context. Here is the breakdown of Sandwell Council by Party, as it stood after the 2010 local elections:
- Labour – 56
- Conservative – 12
- Lib Dem – 4
This is not an earth-shattering event, or a crucial tip in the balance of power in Sandwell. It’s certainly doesn’t deserve to be a national news story – indeed, I’m not sure it’s even the biggest story in Sandwell.
The Liberal Democrats have been suffering their own Councillor problems, with several defections taking place in the last couple of weeks. After decades out of power, it is perhaps less surprising that some of their councillors are finding the reality of government uncomfortable to live with.
These defections are almost inevitable. With thousands of councillors around the country, you are bound to have a range of views, and the Coalition has inherited such a financial mess that it has got to take some difficult and controversial decisions to get Britain back on track.
Still, it isn’t a comfortable experience for any Party Leader. If anything, this should spur the Coalition on in implementing a genuinely localist transfer of power down from central Government.
If a much higher proportion of taxation was set and raised locally, and many more decisions were taken locally too, then these clashes would be a lot less likely. Local councillors would either have themselves or their local opponents to blame when things happened that they didn’t like – instead of being in Cllr Costigan’s situation of lashing out at her party as a whole.