Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Time to Say Goodbye - Notes on my Political 'Retirement'

The song was famously sung by Andrea Bocelli who happened to be a favourite of my late father Lance and it's probably as apt a heading to a blog post as any for what in many ways is a bittersweet juncture in my life.

Because after much reflection and deliberation, I decided some time ago that I would not be submitting my name for re-election to Ceredigion County Council and Cardigan Town Council in 2017.

Back in 2014, I wrote this blog post on the 10th anniversary of my election to local government which explored those tentative early steps and my progress as a Councillor in Cardigan.

As mentioned, there have been many highlights, be it at a town or ward level. But as I stated then, it's those personal stories of support that never make the papers that will live with me.
  • That 6 or so year involvement with a local resident and her housing traumas which finally materialised in her finding a new home just outside of town. She's now studying as a mature student and I'm very proud of her for moving forwards with her life despite the many knocks on the way.
  • Then there was the call from a desolate local resident who had suffered years of domestic abuse who found out, on his finally leaving the family home, that he had left in his wake, countless unpaid bills. This resulted in a Council Tax demand and the threat of a visit from bailiffs within the week to recoup the amount owed in furniture and fittings. I spent 4 hours of a Sunday evening listening to the horror story unfold in her front room. The fact that she technically lived the wrong side of the road from my ward did not matter. She had come to me and I had to help her. I vividly recall going to sleep that night feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders as I had never felt before. Here was a truly horrific case, the like of which I had never faced to that day or since. The next morning I called a senior officer in the Council's finance department in Aberystwyth and asked for the bailiffs to be called off and to agree a regular pay-back plan with her. With letters of support from the local Women's Aid, local chapels and the local food bank, this was thankfully achieved.
  • Finally, my final major piece of casework was thankfully resolved positively only last week when a year long support for two local residents finally saw them move into the home they had first been promised by Tai Ceredigion some 18 months earlier.
These are only the tip of the ice-berg and I can look back at countless cases of support offered or guidance given in the hope that my presence and involvement has brought about a positive end result or at the very least, given moral encouragement to the one in distress in the knowledge that they are not alone.

A Change is Gonna Come
Over the past year however, I have felt an increasing need to press 'pause' on this life of service.

My seat in the Council Chamber with name tag
Elected aged 21, I have effectively spent my entire adult life in the service of others. Whilst I have enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to make a positive difference in people's lives in that time, I have now reached the point where I need to take a step back, reflect and gather breath. That doesn't mean that I'm suddenly going to disappear off the face of the planet! I'm looking forward to continuing in an active role in the community life of our town but with the time to concentrate on a few specific interests of mine.

For those worried that this means a lessening of my commitment to my Liberal family and the liberal cause, have no fear. To quote Tony Benn on his retirement from the House of Commons, he famously stated that:
"I now want more time to devote to politics and more freedom to do so".
I can understand fully his feelings when he wrote that comment. I want to devote more time to politics and to support those who wish to contribute in their own way to civic life. I specifically would like to see myself in a supporting role, supporting others who wish to do what I have done. I would like to use my experience to bring forward and support new and exciting candidates who wish to support the liberal cause by being community champions in their own right.

In this light, I'm delighted that in my wake, I'll be supporting excellent new candidates in Cardigan this spring. Elaine Evans is standing to replace me in Rhyd-Y-Fuwch ward and having started the 1,000 strong online petition to save Cardigan Library in its old location and with her passion for the town of her birth, she will be a great voice for her community. Likewise, Sian Maehrlein in Mwldan ward is another well known Cardigan character who wants to support her home community and will be a strong and confident voice for residents in the Council Chamber. Steve Greenhalgh meanwhile will continue as he did in 2012 by speaking up for residents in Teifi Ward with that cheeky smile and commitment to social justice and fairness that is the embodiment of his character. They will be joined by Yve O'Neill and Marilyn Farmer on the liberal campaign trail - two more women with firm opinions and a resolve to help those in need in our town.

Put it in Perspective
So the liberal fight in Cardigan goes on and indeed, with 5 out of 6 of our candidates being female, we are also striking a positive blow for better representation in local government.

All of this has sought to confirm my view as to the future.

That name tag in reverse...Goodbye
If nothing else, I've always prided myself on having a good sense of perspective and that, along with a keen self-awareness, has led me to realise that if I feel that I need a break to re-charge my batteries as is the case, then it is certainly best to stand back and to allow these new and keen candidates to come forward to take my place.

I may have won 6 elections out of 6 in my local government political career to date, but that's no reason to keep on standing just for the sake of it. I'd rather stand down now whilst I'm still ahead with people asking 'why now?' than hang on as so many do to the refrains of 'him again?'

It was Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States who said in his memoirs of the reasoning for his surprise decision not to run for re-election in 1928 that:
"The Presidential office takes a heavy toll of those who occupy it and those who are dear to them. While we should not refuse to spend and be spent in the service of our country, it is hazardous to attempt what we feel is beyond our strength to accomplish".
Ceredigion County Council is not the United States of America and its HQ at Penmorfa, Aberaeron is certainly not the White House! But when I read these words whilst reading up on the American Presidents during my last trip to America back in the autumn, the words struck home.

The opportunity to re-charge the batteries may give me renewed energy in due course to stand for elected office once more in the future or the freedom from the responsibilities that come with the role may become a newly found friend that I may not wish to relinquish. I do not know. The future is just that. It is an untold story that has yet to be written.

But for now, in the present, I feel that having spent virtually my entire adult life in the service of others, like Coolidge, I sense that now is the time to reflect and accept that the tank is empty and that I feel as if I have given everything that I have to give in elected office.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good Night
So it's time to say adieu and I know I'm going to miss it. Terribly.

The ability to help others is something that no money can buy. The change that can be positively made from local government, even in times of tighter budgets, can never be underestimated. For those who wish to do good, being elected as a Councillor gives a fantastic opportunity to do so and to put back into the community.

But then, help and support can take many forms and I will seek to continue to do my bit for my community, just from a different angle. Dare I say it, but from a different 'perspective'.

So this isn't the end. It's merely the completion of one chapter and the beginning of another.

The last 13 years have been a roller-coaster ride and if I had my time, would I ride it again? You bloody bet I would!