Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Who'd want to be a politician?

It's been a rather challenging day. The kind of day which make me wonder 'why do I bother?'

I expect that everyone involved in public service has such days and I'm no different. Having been an elected Councillor for 6 years since I was elected in 2004 at the age of 21, I've dealt with many kinds of situations, people, problems. It's what we're here to do - to represent our residents to the best of our ability.

Politicians generally get a pretty bad press and when confronted with the expenses scandal of last year, it certainly doesn't help. As with any profession, there will be some whose motivation must be questioned - but that doesn't mean that everyone should be tarred with the same brush of course.

In 6 years as a County Councillor, I have never claimed one penny in expenses. I've never felt the need to and I'm paid more than reasonably for the great privelege of being a Councillor so why claim more tax payers money?

We have to make tough decisions sometimes and as a member of the Independent-Liberal Democrat-Labour administration on Ceredigion County Council, I've had to make a few myself. But I consider them all carefully and when I felt that I had to support an increase in Council Tax by 5% in 2008, I felt that I needed to show leadership in tightening my belt as others, including the vulnerable would have to as well. So I decided to freeze my basic salary for the next 4 years and to donate the rise in my allowance to local worthy Cardigan charities. This I have done.

The Motivation
The reason I stood for election was to give residents in my ward in Cardigan a choice. They voted for me and I have since done my best to represent their concerns at whichever level necessary. I was elected in 2004 with a wafer-thin majority of 18 and was re-elected in 2008 with 86% of the vote. It was very pleasing as it gave me the confidence to know that my work-rate was appreciated by those who rely on me for support and representation.

But it's not plain sailing.

The Bad Times
There are times, indeed it a regular occurrence, when I feel as if I'm banging my head against a brick wall. It may be the bureaucracy that is resistant to change and to new ideas, or an inability of colleagues to debate sensibly and respectfully and to act moderately.

It's the 'work-life' balance that often suffers. With meetings galore to attend and case work to deal with to help local residents, I often forgot that I need to look after myself as well. This is not a 9-5 job! Over the years as I've got used to this rather surreal way of life, I've become much more appreciative of having some quality 'me' time, as well as spending time with my friends and my family.

I also get frustrated at the often unecessary political bickering that goes on. I know we live in a party system and disagreement will often be the order of the day, but there are times when party politics should be of secondary importance to local concerns. We should work together more on grass-roots issues and put party political differences to one side for the greater good. But many people are so intransigent in their partisan political ways that this will never happen. It's greatly frustrating.

The Good Times
But then, whenever I have one of these 'why do I bother' days when it feels as if I'm banging my head against that brick wall, I realise why I persevere and do it.

It is the fact that people want to stop me in the street and pleasantly say hello and ask how I am and feel that I am approachable to help with their problems. It is the fact that, to quote Flecther from Porridge, it's the 'little victories' that often mean the most. Just getting a street light fixed here or getting a park bench replaced there helps the quality of life of those who worry about these day-to-day issues.

It's the fact that last night, I came straight back from a shopping trip with Alyson in Carmarthen to chair a Neighbourhood Watch meeting. It's a 'Watch' that I started up 4+ years ago in response to concerns about anti-social behaviour in the Bro Teifi part of town. I wanted to bring the community back together to look out for each other and all these years later, we still get a good turnout of 20-30 residents come along on a quarterly basis to air their concerns. The success of this particular venture can be marked by the fact that the official PACT meetings, which has been going in Cardigan for 2 years or so now and which met today, rarely have more than 10 people present (today it was only 7 members of the public including myself). So I was able to put forward as the policing priorities today the concerns that had been raised by my local Neighbourhood Watch last night. Local representation in action I'd like to think. It also made me realise that those who decided to come to the Neighbourhood Watch meeting last night but not today's PACT meeting, must feel more comfortable in the surroundings which I have fostered. That's a heart-warming thought.

It's worthwhile because I hope I've been able to show that young people can get involved in politics too. I was particularly keen during my Mayoral year to be seen across as wide a spectrum of Cardigan society as possible so I could make this point.

Love to Hate You
But then I know, and this annoys me, that there are those who will never like me or want to like me just because of what I 'am'. Yes I'm a Liberal Democrat and proud of it but I'm more than just that. I'm a young 20 something (far to close to 30 for my liking) who is trying his best to get some positive results for people in Cardigan. I'm not one for making enemies. I am very much a 'people person' so I find it hard to comprehend when some people naturally take against me not because of 'who I am' but simply, 'what I am'. Aren't we better than that? Can't we agree to disagree when we need to do so but get on with each other amicably on a day-to-day basis?

Yes, my head is in the clouds and it always will be but at least, I'd like to think, I have a good, positive, 'glass half-full' outlook on life.

So, I carry on. There is no alternative but to keep going and to continue to do my best in what I do. I can't do more than that. The positives far outweigh the negatives but there are days when those negatives seem to loom larger than normal.

I'm glad that I have so many interests outside of politics, as indeed, this blog hopefully demonstrates. It keeps me and my interest in what I do fresh as they give me a 'release' from the pressurised life of being in the public eye.

I'd like to think that I'm a pretty 'normal', 'rounded' individual. Hopefully this makes me better at doing what I do.

It certainly helps me to get through days like today.

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