If I had to choose between being a democrat and being a Conservative I would choose democracy every time. When you see the misery of Zimbabwe, the oppression of communist states and military dictatorships, you remember just how important it is that we have the power to choose our governments, and to get rid of them by peaceful means if we wish.
For that reason I want to thank on behalf of the whole community all those who stood as candidates in the recent local elections, and all those who gave their time to deliver leaflets and knock on doors in all the parties that participated. Only if people are prepared to do that does the electorate have a choice. Only if enough people do that with differing views and interests do we preserve our liberties. I would also like to thank all those who took the trouble to vote, for that too is an important part of maintaining a free society.
I am naturally grateful that voters decided to elect a majority of Conservative Councillors. I am also conscious of the weight of responsibility that rests with them, and the need for them to serve the District well. Whilst the overall political complexion of the Council has not changed, we will soon have a new Leader of the Council following Frank Browneâ€™s retirement. We also have a number of new Councillors. Whilst I trust they will draw on the experience and knowledge of their longer serving colleagues, I hope also they will not be shy about making their own contributions based on the experiences they have gained elsewhere and the passions and enthusiasms they bring to the job.
Some constituents imply that as the local Member of Parliament, sharing a party with the majority on the local Council, I am just a phone call away from changing anything that the Council is doing. I would like to assure you that it cannot â€“ and should not â€“ be like that. Our Councillors value their independence, and accept their responsibilities to exercise the legal powers they assume. Many of them would not welcome me overseeing their every move or seeking to guide them on what to do. They hire senior officers to advise them and to carry out their decisions.
Of course I work closely with the Council when they want to influence government, for that is my task. Of course when constituents complain about something the Council is doing I refer it to Councillors or officers as I want my constituents either to have a good explanation of what is happening, or hope the Council will change its mind if constituents have a good case. If something is going badly wrong I will add my voice to the clamour for a rethink, if I believe that would help rather than being counter productive.
The forthcoming change of leadership gives me an unusual opportunity to say bit more about the direction I would like to see. I do not myself have a role in the choice of Leader, and have no vote. It will be decided by the elected Conservative Councillors. I think that is the right answer, for they know their colleagues best, and can judge who would give them the best lead. I do not have a preferred candidate, and do not know the WB Councillors from outside my constituency as well as I know the ones from within.
Whoever they choose, I would offer the following advice. Deliver more than you promise. Make sure something can be done and can work before making a firm promise. Remember just how squeezed people fell, so be ever vigilant to control costs and keep the administrative burdens down. Even prudent Conservative Councils can do things better and cheaper, and Council taxes generally are high.
As Leader listen as well as lead. There may be times when you need to lead Councillors in a direction that make some unhappy, but always seek to persuade rather than boss or assert. Do not have favourites, do not exclude any colleague from decision making through the Group, and never stop listening to the criticisms you will receive from all quarters. The Opposition will not always be wrong. Great leadership is strong and subtle â€“ it happens without people noticing. Weak leadership is characterised by endless calls for loyalty, botched attempts to stifle debate, and reliance of an ever dwindling band of admirers and supporters. For all our sakes please avoid that.