Political Tribalism is Damaging Our Democracy

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.

3 Replies to “Political Tribalism is Damaging Our Democracy”

  1. Well thought out article Tim that could be applied at national level. If ever there was a nee for consensus it’s now, but instead we get factionalism and toeing the party line.

  2. Liberal Democrat councillors do not listen . A group of stakeholders and interested parties are trying to stop the council putting more barbecues into Beddington Park . We have asked for a meeting and have been told no. They will go ahead and do what they want making the park a no go zone for anyone who loves wildlife and parks to exchange it for money making schemes that attract anti social behaviour and litter

    1. At a briefing when options were presented to Councillors, the summary of next steps was thus:

      We will seek steer from constitutional support the revised option, seeking agreement and presenting to Beddington and Wallington Local Committee to ensure timelines are met for presentation to E&N committee in June.

      Officers from Neighbourhood Services will meet and present revised options to residents who have made further representation from the Beddington Park cottages.

      Neighbourhood Services will explore and implement the extension of current arrangements with District Enforcement for a further 6 months from May 2019.

      Concerns had been raised about the “Party BBQ’s” and these are off the agenda for now but for future discussion – the procurement procedure will, however, include provision for the same as this remains a trial process and procurement is such a long winded procedure, they find it easier to include it and remove it later than go through the procedure again for amended ideas.

      A BBQ is as close as the nearest Local Supermarket with a disposable BBQ and a packet of meat. Anarchy can return in a flash and we need a manageable framework

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *