It’s 20 years now that I’ve been observing and writing about the machinations of local government in Kent.
That’s two decades of sitting – eyes glazed over – listening to people in places like Canterbury’s Guildhall council chamber talk about things like “the requirement to facilitate ingress and egress for transportational vehicles into Western Esplanade”.
I go these meetings in order to locate in an ocean of tedium, pettifogging, and grandstanding the odd interesting morsel which might actually mean something to someone.
The cycle of committee meetings is, of course, broken up every four years with the election to Canterbury City Council, something in the past I looked forward to.
A wry smile would pass my lips every time polling day neared and I received a leaflet about someone I’d never heard of wearing the rosette of the [insert name] party who has, I’m told, for the last few years been tirelessly working in the [insert name] ward as a dedicated community activist.
These leaflets are sometimes created in such a way that the candidate’s membership of a political party is delivered as an afterthought, a postscript to the fact that they’re such selfless, well-intentioned individuals in the first place.
Should that demonstrate that party politics ought to have no place in local government?
Were that only so. People who run for council know they must align themselves with a political party to stand a chance of being elected.
Their parties, in turn, engage in a variety of open warfare with their opponents, the first skirmishes of which we are already beginning to witness even with actual polling day three months away.
These battles have in the past succeeded in convincing local campaign managers that they are shrewd behind-the-scenes operatives like the character Malcolm Tucker in political satire The Thick of It, smugly patting themselves on the back for their self-professed craftiness.
And yet when their clumsy and transparent wheezes backfire, it’s never their fault. Failing to accept that their judgment and cunning are actually in short supply, they instead always – and I mean always – seek to blame an independent media for not fulfilling its duty to act as their political party’s version of Soviet propaganda rag Pravda.
As the May 2 polling day approaches, we ought to admit, though, the inescapable reality that party politics in local government will remain with us for the foreseeable future. Although it looks increasingly tired, it at least offers something of a guide upon which to base choices at the ballot box.
But the belligerent and exaggerated tribal party politics which I fear could come to define this year’s campaign is simultaneously ugly and banal. It makes enemies of people who should be friends. It has the capacity to pollute the democratic process, in turn making it repellent to a general population not predisposed to adversarial political tribalism. It’s tawdry, it’s stupid, and it means nothing except to those who engage in it.
Worst of all, it does nothing for the Canterbury district or its people.
Alex Claridge has been a journalist for nearly 20 years and won the 2016 Kent Press and Broadcast Award for columnist of the year.