Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bringing out the best and worst in people

Hello, silence, my old friend. It's been some time since I've dropped in on my own blog. I must say I'm glad to see that more accomplished bloggers than myself are feeling drained of inspiration at this time of year. I wonder whether that's despite or because it's been an eventful time in Oxford politics -- we have what can only loosely be called the delights of budget-setting.

Those of youwho are aficionados of council meetings will need no telling that setting the budget provides the biggest bun-fight of them all. It's long, it's febrile and, by God, it's depressing. This year's meeting was no exception in length -- it started at four, teatime, and finished at quarter to midnight, after the restaurants are closed (I am no more grumpy than when I am starved. And sober). And it had it's own form of drama, with adjournments being called, political groups rushing in and out of the chamber huddling into their cabals. But, at the same time, there were elements of this year's process which were, for once, actually positive.

The budget which was finally set was certainly a compromise -- each of the three political groups on the council got something, no-one got everything. What was impressive was that a large part of the budget was agreed by tripartite discussions in the days before the meeting and on the day itself. It was actually proof that we could all be mature and work constructively with each other.

But, as if the parties felt we shouldn't let anybody know that we can be constructive behind closed doors, the last part of the budget debate really did sink into the mudbath, with metaphorically brown-caked figures rising to lob insults in one direction or another at top volume. We can all do it -- perhaps none of us can resist the allure of the kindergarten -- but it struck me on this occasion more than ever that it does us little credit. Especially when the figures actually at stake were a minute part of the overall budget; when there was no audience to watch us preening ourselves, and when, in the end, there was probably little difference across the chamber on the principles supposedly at issue.

I would hope that, after ten days to reflect on this, all parties would feel that they had actually achieved something in the process and that the final budget set was better for not being the work of a single party. But, there again, the budget has proved only an interlude in the battle over recycling, on which my colleague, Stephen Tall, has written recently. Now, if you want depressing, that's the debate to follow. Come to think of it, it deserves a posting of its own here. Perhaps I have re-found the urge to blog.

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