LETTER: Stand back and think for a bit

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I am not a regular reader of the West Sussex County Times but on the occasions I do look at it, it always seems that a local councillor some where is under what quite often seems like a vicious attack.

Either they have done something a protest group thinks they should not have done, or they have not done something that another group thinks they should have done.

Often these attacks appear to be urged on by shrill headlines from the media who, on occasions, will try to prove that it has the power to influence the course of events one way or the other.

A while back, I was a local councillor. During that time I found that my fellow councillors, whatever their political persuasion, were, with one or two exceptions, not professional politicians; they were just local people who had decided they would actually try and do something for their communities rather than simply yelling from the sidelines.

When you take up your postion as a new councillor you have many grand ideas about what you think needs to be done and how you are going to do it; but you are quickly disabused of any such notions.

You immediately come up against the law of the land, the law relating to local government, the policies of the national government, available funding, vested interests and so it goes on, with everything seeming to conspire to stop you doing anything.

As with national government, you will also be working alongside career civil servants in the form of local government officers. To some of them, the fact that you are elected for four years and then could disappear at the next election, perhaps understandably, makes you something of a temporary player in a much longer game in their eyes.

Consequently, it will seem at times as if your cherished but troublesome ideas are sitting on the back burner quietly awaiting your departure.

While all of that is going on, you are on 24 hour seven day duty trying to sort out the many and varied problems affecting individual constituents, you are also required to gaze into the future and think about how things will change and what will be best for the majority in the years ahead long after you are around.

Who could have predicted 50 years ago that the population of our small island would rise from 45 million to the 65 million we have today and all the issues that would bring.

You are faced with having to make many horrendously difficult decisions where your heart will very much tell you no but your head will say yes it has got to be done if future generations are to thrive in a world made for them not us.

So what would happen if all these much maligned county, district, borough and parish councillors said ‘to hell with it’ we have had enough of the late nights, the insults and all the aggravation, we are going home and you can look after yourselves?

What would be the alternatives? I suspect that without locally elected representatives, at best local administration would come via groups of civil servants, directed by someone in a remote government office somewhere to whom your town or village is just a dot on a map. At worst it could be mob rule with those controlling the streets controlling everyone.

The airing of differing opinions and constructive debate is what democracy is about but unfortunately we now seem to have descended to a low point where it is thought that the success of an argument is counted in the number of insults that can be delivered and that applies as much to the floor of the House of Commons as it does to anywhere else.

Perhaps we all need to stand back, count to ten and think for a bit.

CHRIS MASON

Hawthorn Way, Storrington