At EastLondonLines, we’re in the business of local news. And as our stories show, you can’t have local news without local politics.
A week doesn’t go by without a fresh debate over some new topic with the potential to impact the lives of people living in East and South London. Whether over planning permission, healthcare or or tax plans, intense political battles are fought to decide the best way forward.
But all too often local issues are hijacked or sidelined by bigger ideological struggles. And while it’s good to have your eye on the troubles of the world at large, solving problems is never as simple as declaring them a microcosm of a battle between good and evil, champion and deceiver.
And there’s the rub – the temptation for public figures of all stripes is always to seize upon the latest events and attempt to turn them into political hay.
Take our recent story about the controversy following Croydon Council’s announcement of its tax plans for the year ahead. Looking at this war of words, it’s not so hard to see the spectre of advantage-taking on both sides.
The Conservative authority, eager to trumpet its benevolence, announced its intentions in the most glowing fashion. Suggestions of unprecedented generosity to the man on the street abounded in the rhetoric of its statements.
As the Labour opposition was swift to proclaim, the shining statistics belied some more complex numerical reckoning. However, in its eagerness to condemn adversaries for the unthinkable crime of spin, Labour itself fell prey to similarly extravagant tendencies, using the news to promote its own agenda.
And thus an issue of local import becomes the stage for a wider party-political showdown, with the voices of each side vying to denounce the other most volubly. In the ensuing din, the voices of citizens themselves are rather drowned out.
Attempting to take an abstract line on issues of the everyday can be a recipe for trouble. As Freud might’ve put it, sometimes a gripe is just a gripe.
When local politics becomes a stage for more grandiose conflicts of opinion, the risk is always that mutual respect fades away, and negotiation becomes a slanging-match.
The truth of the matter is that there is no one truth. Situations, like people, are complex. There’s always more than one side to a story, and sometimes half a dozen stories to each ‘side’. By failing to recognise the points your opponents have to make, you make life harder for everyone.
Being moderate doesn’t exactly have a sexy image. It’s hard to rally the metaphorical troops with a war-cry of “Sensible and balanced responses to complicated situations!”. But that same fastidious fairness is vital when it comes to making life better for all.