Monday, 30 September 2013

The Power of Places

Back when I was more physically capable (i.e. before my 'incident' in April 2011), I always enjoyed campaigning, both canvassing and delivering. Sometimes this would be as a member of a team, often I'd be alone as others weren't available, yet the job needed to be done.

However much I found working within a team fruitful and with its own appeal (and I miss all of that nowadays), it was even more when I was working alone that it felt so good, just to be 'out there' in the real world, on the ground. As I have long been sensitive to places and their 'feel', when alone I could stop for a moment and pick up on the atmosphere of where I was at any time.

Thus I discovered numerous hidden gems – too many to mention here, but I will provide a few examples.

Back in the ward I represented for eight years (Rochester South and Horsted as it is called nowadays), Quickthorn Crescent in the Snodhurst Avenue area is one such, especially on a dry Sunday afternoon in late spring or early autumn.

It is wonderful: it always has its own character, but at these times one is likely to encounter someone out the front, tending the front garden or washing the car. To anyone delivering in Quickthorn Crescent I say: let them engage you in conversation if they wish to do so: it's usually worth it!

Where I now live, in Chatham Central ward, tucked away is Mitchell Avenue, another road with a surprising degree of individuality and character. I bet none of the (Labour) Councillors representing the ward has much if any real idea about the road.

On that topic, more than once I have surprised Labour Councillors here in Medway with snippets of information about some spot or road in their ward of which they were completely unaware. I could take this to extremes and embarrass them hugely, but I don't feel that is the best way to proceed, i.e. point-scoring as a goal in itself.

A couple of examples: the road where a non-English speaking young boy can usually be found out on the street, practising football, emulating his hero Ronaldinho (this is Thorold Road in Luton). Then there's the road that has more dogs than houses (Ironside Close in Wayfield). No Labour councillor, including those representing those areas, knew either of these things, nor many others that I know.

Last week I went back to the Labour heartland within Medway of Twydall as I had promised to do. It still had something of that bubbling-under feel that I found uncomfortable, and I was there only an hour or so (I had planned to be there for at least twice that long if possible), but it wasn't as strong this time.

It is no surprise to me that it is very much a Labour-held area, and I consider it now to be the worst of those as all the others show at least some promise of progress and change. Notwithstanding all of that, it is interesting to note that the years-old pavement damage I mentioned in my post on the earlier walkabout has now been fixed. The timing of this suggests that I probably embarrassed the Labour Councillors there to act at last...

In short: every place has its own 'power', whether positive or negative. Most people seem to be largely insensitive to this, and fixate their attention and judgment upon events, incidents and reputations. One cannot blame them for this approach; but it is in appreciating what lies beyond the immediate and the merely physical that allows the more perceptive among us to notice potential that might otherwise be missed.

I have mentioned this in respect of Wayfield before now: the place has the potential to up its game, to raise the bar, just as other communities have done over the last decade or so – urban Strood being a prime example, though they are slipping backward a little at the moment. Still, they are learning from doing that, I gather, so some good should come from it in the longer term...

Wayfield was a ward by itself until May 2003, when it was joined to Luton. This is somewhat unfortunate, as it means that the drag-down effect of Luton will make it very difficult for Wayfield to lift itself above the level of Labour representation – which, to be fair, was originally quite good, though it now seems to be flagging.

This is a problem with larger size wards, and diminishes the innate power of places to up their game, in a fundamental shift, by voting-in a higher grade of elected representatives. So many places around Medway (and no doubt in many other places around Britain) have already learned this and made their own moves.

Even Weeds Wood, of all places, has shifted away from lesser representation, and in a series of changes over a number of years has now reached the point where it has only Conservative Councillors. Admittedly, there is more to that particular ward than Weeds Wood alone, but the boundaries haven't changed in ten years and yet the rightward shift has been steady and noteworthy within those same boundaries.

In conclusion, my two big points are that places have power, and they can determine something of their own destiny. It is perfectly reasonable for a community to ask itself: why should places like Hempstead and Wigmore (okay, that one's a bit predictable), Princes Park, all of Rainham, Lordswood and Capstone, and the majority of Rochester – quite apart from the peninsula – be doing so well relative to our own area?

Sooner or later they wake up to the realisation that it is the quality and outlook of their elected representatives that makes one of the single biggest differences, and they change their voting pattern significantly. This, of course, is what democracy is supposed to be about anyway.

So, for those content with mediocrity or, at best, a so-so, almost lackadaisical approach to local representation and (in)action, you don't need Conservative Councillors. For the rest of us: well, the lessons that others have already learned are there for us to crib from without having to go through it all for ourselves.

It's not difficult to work out, is it?

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