Tuesday 31 July 2007

Illinois, State Backbenchers Known as "Mushrooms". Sounds Familiar?

I was reading a piece in the New York Times yesterday and it mentioned that “rank-and-file lawmakers [in the Illinois State Senate] were known as ‘mushrooms’ because they were kept in the dark and fed on manure”.

It made me smile as only recently (late one night in a local Hammersmith pub) a H&F Tory frontbencher confided to us that he “couldn’t give his backbenchers too much information as it would open up a can of worms” I guess all administrations in every democratic country will see their own backbenchers as a group that needs to be managed. I think the media spotlight makes the “mushroom” approach almost impossible for our national politics but it is one that can be witnessed in local government - although, I’ve always thought it to be self defeating, as rigorous scrutiny and healthy debate produces better public policies and so better administrations.

In H&F we have 176,000 residents and our Administration councillors are charged with the responsibility of a £180million budget. Last year, 22 of the 33 Conservative councillors elected were new to political office. Public office is a huge responsibility. It requires politicians to understand the needs of all they have been elected to represent, have the capacity for independent thought, develop & scrutinise policy options and then advocate their point of view. While (as with any new job) it is understandable that initial inclinations can be to fit in and get on with the boss; it is disturbing that most of the Tory Group has so far acted as little more than voting fodder.

Meanwhile, the local Tory frontbench admits to "making mistakes" with their 18% pay hike, crime and education policies as well as confirming that they are not on top of the details on elderly people’s services, housing, or the environment. And so it’s little wonder that many local people are already beginning to question whether there are any checks and balances within the H&F Conservative Group of councillors.

More manure anyone?

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