Friday, September 22, 2006

Car Park

A lot has been said and written about the need for renewal of the Labour Party and how it can win back support. None of the accounts, to the best of my knowledge, have mentioned the crucial importance of better parking facilities.

I was a councillor for four years, for most of which time it would be both sad and true to say that my life revolved around the council. I did my best to let the people I represented know what I was doing, to help with problems and to try to make the improvements that they suggested. There were particular things that I cared about, like trying to keep open a community resource centre which helped people learn computer skills, and improving the local play areas to make sure that children and young people had more fun stuff to do, and others which I tried but never had much success, like getting the roads resurfaced more often.

About a year after I started as a councillor, the local residents association raised the issue of a car parking area which was on council land, but which was in a very bad state of repair, looking horrible and dangerous to pedestrians, with roots growing up through it. They'd tried to get something done for a while, but had not had much luck. I said I'd find out, and persuaded the council to spend some of the money for local improvements on doing the work. They did an excellent job, and redid the car park so it looked really nice and was much easier to park in.

The local residents were really pleased, and one in particular decided to come along regularly to the residents association and get more involved, as he was impressed that they had managed to get the problem sorted and he had been particularly concerned about the car park ever since his wife had tripped and hurt herself while walking back through it one day. This resident was a great asset to the association, and when the person chairing it chose not to continue, was chosen as the new chair, in which role he worked with me and others to sort out problems and get improvements.

So when I was leaving the council to start a new job, I asked him to consider standing for Labour to be my successor. He threw himself into the campaign, going out and meeting people every night and talking to them about their ideas for what needed doing. He'd lived in the area for nineteen years and been involved in a wide range of different community activities, so lots of people already knew him.

I was down on election day reminding people to go and vote, and our supporters were really enthusiastic and motivated to go and support us (which isn't always the case, particularly not with the current national situation) because they'd read our leaflets and agreed with us about what the important issues were and liked what we said we would do about them, and because so many of them had met our candidate and felt that he was on their side.

I always hoped that when I finished that I could see that I had made a positive difference, that things were better than when I started, and part of that was trying to make sure that I handed over to a Labour councillor rather than losing the ward to anyone else. I thought that the election would be very close, even on the day when things seemed to be going so well. We got to the count, and it turned out to be a rout, Bob had won by nearly 300 votes, including many people who had never voted Labour before. He gave a graceful speech, and we celebrated into the night.

Bob will be an excellent councillor, and a great Labour representative. I bet when he first came along to the local residents association he didn't realise he'd end up getting sucked in to the world of local government, but I'm delighted that he did, and that I managed to get the council to do something about that car park.


At 1:11 am , Blogger Skuds said...

Its the political version of Steve Wright's "Our Tune"!!

Great story though. There is a lot of talk about regeneration of the party, but I am convinced the way to do it is from the bottom up, with activity like this.


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