Friday, 13 May 2011

In praise of Bath's civilised politicians

Politics, as we all know, is just like sport.

It is incredibly tribal and relies on warring teams battling it out, putting the boot in and arguing over every decision before one team emerges victorious and the others complain, sulk and blame everyone else but themselves.

So there really is no difference between sport and politics is there?

Well, nationally perhaps that is the case. But, I think, not so in Bath.

For, during the election, I think I saw evidence that Bath really is an example of how you can have a very civilised, mature political debate.

I joined the Chronicle team at the count for the B&NES election for an entertaining evening that didn’t end until around 5am and I was very impressed by what I saw and heard especially as I have been to some pretty lively counts over the years and seen some extraordinary sights. My favourite was when I was in the Midlands seeing a newly-elected lady screaming at her husband “you promised me I would lose!” after she had been unexpectedly elected for a deeply-unwanted four-year term because of a shift in national public opinion. It was a moment that amused many of us – particularly those who knew she wouldn’t be our councillor.

Last Thursday night, however, in the surprisingly calm confines of the Guildhall, there was no such hysterics – just a very dignified finale to what has been, for the most part, a very dignified election campaign.The reason I think we saw this was because all the parties emerged with something.

The national pundits had said that the Tory/Lib Dem parties would lose thousands of seats as voters took their revenge on the Coalition. In B&NES, however, the script hadn’t been read and you could argue (as I’m about to try to do) that nobody really lost.

Despite having apparently unpopular policies to do with transport and Culverhay, the Conservatives suffered only a minor reverse and many of their candidates increased their own personal votes. Labour did well also to have a candidate in every seat in Bath – which is not fertile ground for them – and they had respectable results in most wards. And the Greens also shone – taking third place in some areas and proving they are a genuine force to be reckoned with locally.So if the Tories, Labour and the Greens had reasons to be cheerful, then even more so did the independent voice (well done to June Player on her spectacular victory) and especially the Bath Lib Dems.

On a night where, particularly in the north, the Lib Dems seemed about as popular as Al Qaeda, in Bath they produced a result that had the phrase “bucking the trend” stamped all over it. Their performance as a party – and that of several individual councillors who greatly increased their vote – was remarkable in the national context and must have given the beleaguered Nick Clegg some comfort on a night when he had precious little else to cheer.

Of course, not everybody really won – someone has to run the council after all – but I think Bath itself did because this was a real war but with very little blood spilt.

Civilised. That’s what it was.

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