If, when playing Scrabble, you find yourself with a completely useless set of letters, you can throw them all away and take another set. It is a pity you cannot do that with politicians. There are one or two whom Oxford would miss, just as some of your Scrabble letters are worth keeping, but it would otherwise be great to get rid of them all and start again.
I am not sure what suicidal impulse makes Oxford call back Labour just as the rest of the country is ditching it. The biggest single identifiable cause is dislike of the new rubbish collection arrangements. These were actually approved in all essentials under the outgoing Labour-led administration of two years ago but it fell to the Lib-Dems to implement them. There is no evidence that they would have been any different under Labour, but Labour’s good fortune, as it now appears, was to be able to scarper over the period when the garbage hit the fan (see Fish-heads for Fooks not fair).
Being absent when trouble occurs is, of course, Gordon Brown’s one big political skill, and not one which is open to him any more. Oxford Labour has made no positive suggestions for improving the scheme over the last two years – not practicable ones, anyway – and it will be interesting to see what they actually do now the power is theirs again. One thing to watch out for is that there are new plans in the offing anyway, developed under the Lib Dems and making use of resources which were not available when the current plans were implemented. Labour will claim them as their own and disparage their predecessors. The Lib Dems would do well to publish them as widely as possible (here if they like) before Labour implements them.
Some of the on-line comments today show that many people are simply ignorant of the issues. Most of these, to judge by their syntax, are people who would be pushed to understand a bus ticket. Their vote is as good as anyone else’s, of course, which is why Labour is now the largest party in Oxford.
So, another two years of financial ineptitude before we have had the chance to recover from Labour’s last and very long tenureship. The attitude is well summarised in the blog of Antonia Bance, Labour councillor for Rose Hill and Iffley. Bance describes herself as a feminist and democratic socialist and (I think I read somewhere) is proud to be interventionist in other peoples’ lives – and if I didn’t read that, it would not be hard to deduce. She appears somewhat brighter than the average in Oxford’s Labour Group, but seems to treat the whole business of running a city as an extension of JCR politics.
One of her posts of yesterday includes this:
Expect a city council that sorts the finances; invests in play areas, playschemes and youth football; pays its employees a living wage and pushes all local employers to pay a living wage too; makes the rubbish and recycling system work better, especially in places like Greater Leys and Jericho; builds more houses and argues hard for an urban extension to Oxford to help solve the housing crisis in the city.
It is that easy, is it Ms Bance? Just swing open the doors of the city treasury and pull out some money? It is like watching kiddies finding the keys to the sweet shop. I particularly like the bit about pushing all local employers to pay higher wages.
Bance’s blog tipped me off to something I had missed, something even more appalling than the Labour win. That old bat Maureen Christian is back. Her voters gave her the heave-ho in 2006 but have now got her back again. Doubtless she is assiduous on their behalf, but the objection to her was on the wider Oxford stage – she was Planning Chairman for years, and her domineering manner and vulgar taste gave us much of what Oxford is today. There were big sighs of relief when the old Planning Committe was replaced by Area Committees, but she went on as mayor to impose on us the Islamic Centre in the teeth of strong local opposition Even out of office, she continued to inflict her mark on Oxford by driving through the plans for garish flood-lighting in the city centre. If much of Oxford now looks like Slough crossed with Stevenage, Maureen Christian is to blame.
The intellectual balance is remedied to some extent by the welcome return of Stephen Brown as Lib Dem councillor for Carfax.
It remains to be seen how much damage Labour can do in two years. The hope, as with Gordon Brown, is that they will harm themselves more than they harm us, and disqualify themselves from serious contention for a decade or two.