Hart of the Matter
In case you were unaware of it, there is a certain event due to happen on May 6 and, until it does happen, in the interests of democracy, this column needs to remain unbiased and fair to all sides which, I initially thought, is going to be a bit limiting.
However, as was very well expressed at a recent town council meeting when the subject of political debate came up, what we all want is the best for Haverhill, rather than taking any particular side.
No doubt you will be glad to hear that I am not a candidate in the coming hurly-burly. But there is nothing to stop any one of us taking a leap of imagination and thinking about what we might do if we were elected to take charge of Haverhill, after the fashion of an elected mayor such as our good friend Boris in London.
And it’s not such an easy game to play as you might at first think. If you don’t believe me, go away and try it for a few minutes before reading on.
It’s very easy to criticise from the sidelines, whether it be at national level or local, where we can comfortably blame ‘them’ for everything that goes wrong, and shake our heads in disbelief at what ‘they’ plan to do next.
But suppose you were given a blank sheet and access to the shedloads of cash generally washing about aimlessly in local government (so we are told by the anti-waste brigades from all parties). What would you do first?
Try to bribe some big national retailers to come here? Re-instate the railway line to Cambridge? Increase the population by building huge numbers of houses until it reached the tipping point to gain better facilities? Move Haverhill into South Cambridgeshire? Declare UDI in southern St Edmundsbury? Create a giant new venue for unspecified and probably expensive forms of entertainment at a cost of many millions?
Of course, these are all pie in the sky, impractical and impossible ideas that no one with any sense would agree to pursue in the real world.
You could, of course, call a great big public meeting for everyone who wanted to come along, to ask them what they would like – their wish-list. This seems a very democratic idea but it has its drawbacks. First, there isn’t an indoor venue in Haverhill that could hold anywhere near enough people to be a truly representative sample, let alone everyone who might want a say.
Secondly, everyone would want something different, and everyone would speak at once no matter how often you tried to shut them up.
Thirdly, one at least of them (there’s always a smart-alec around somewhere) would make the comment to which you have no effective response: “I thought we just elected you to take charge. Get on with it and magic Haverhill into the best resourced town on earth, and don’t bother us with the details.”
So you’d go back to your little office overlooking the high street – very plainly, even austerely furnished because you don’t want to waste public money – and try to come up with some ideas.
Meanwhile you screw up the expenses form on your desk because you want to be transparent.
Eventually you hit upon the one single measure you can take which will please absolutely everyone and with which everyone will totally agree – a plan to reduce your own salary to the minimum wage.
At least it will make you even more popular when it comes to the next election. The next election! It might be several years away, and you have only just purchased your desk from a charity shop, but you realise that if you want to keep your job, you are going to have to have a plan about how to win again next time.
And that is when this simple objective begins to take over and colour everything you do. Instead of ‘What is best for Haverhill?’ you start to think ‘What will get me re-elected?’
There will be some unpalatable things which you know you have to do, and at that point you realise you will have to employ at least one person – a communications manager, or spin-doctor, to present your actions in a positive light.
Overnight, you have become a politician.
Luckily, you then wake up and realise it has all been a bad dream. It happened to me the other night. I think the point when I woke up was when I received a letter from the town council. It read: “Dear David, Would you be willing to take part in a three-way mayoral election debate at the arts centre? We have already secured the agreement of the other two candidates, Gordon and Nick....”