On Monday evening, I attended a “Member Development Session” at the Civic Centre. This was one of a programme of training sessions designed to help us Councillors to do a better job in representing our residents.
A creditable ambition and many of the sessions have been enlightening as Monday’s was, but perhaps for different reasons. The content of the session was “Effective Communication “and centred on the public speaking and debate.
The presenter is currently a Labour Councillor in Reading and future candidate for Parliament and one of her core points was that you should have a clear idea of your audience and your objective. She gave, as a personal example, that she may wish to “antagonise an opponent”.
I immediately thought of my impression of the Full Council meetings that I have attended since being elected last May and the political antagonism and tribal behaviour that appears to have become the norm.
The concept of “WIN/WIN” seems alien to the main parties and, more importantly, in persisting with their increasingly entrenched views those who can bring about change have lost the art of listening.
Sales trainers will keep repeating the mantra “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in those proportions” – and that has been lost on politicians on a National and Local level. They don’t listen to their political opponents and they especially don’t listen to voters/residents.
Take the current position on anything from waste collection to parking strategies – a resident, Sandra Ackland, presented a well thought out and beautifully timed petition about the current Parking Strategy to the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee on 7th March. Every Liberal Democrat Councillor on the committee voted against her petition in exactly the same way as they did when a motion was raised on the same subject at Full Council by Councillor Shields, a Conservative member.
Back to the training session and the summing up on Monday was most revealing in a comment by a senior Conservative who, to the distress of a more junior colleague who had come into politics to make a difference for residents, said that he had learnt to be able to speak in debates in the knowledge that it would change nothing.
I was surprised when, standing as Independents, Jillian Green, Nick Mattey and myself were elected over the established parties – seeing the tribalism that dominates even our Local Council, I now see the damage that it is doing and understand why people who care – people who vote – are looking for something different.
A final word – I have only met one person in my life who is always right, and I married her! The rest of us need to talk, listen and agree the right way forward.