From the Council Leader - Keep Positive

14 Jan 2024
Stephen Conway

In a year when we have all-out council elections on new boundaries in May and a general election, probably in the autumn, we can expect the political temperature - locally and nationally - to rise.


If the past is any guide, the run up to important elections usually sees politics take on a more negative flavour, with attacks on the personality as well as the policies of other parties featuring more prominently than positive reasons to vote for a party.  


For some, especially those who have little positive to say, the temptation to do down their opponents will be irresistible.  For those attacked, the urge to retaliate in kind can also be difficult to resist.  It's natural to worry that if mud is thrown at you, some of it might stick if you don't fight back.  Before you know it, we are in a downward spiral of attack, counter-attack, and futher attack.  Calm and rational argument is drowned out by increasingly shrill and bitter aggression.   


I dearly hope we can avoid this kind of politics, both in Wokingham and across the country.  It does nothing to encourage people to vote; all the evidence we have suggests that it puts them off not just particular parties, but that it disillusions them with the whole political process.  At local government level, we cannot afford for people to turn away from voting; low turnouts merely encourage central governments to ignore local concerns and centralize decison-making even more.


Politics is inevitably about a clash of ideas and will always involve pointing out the errors of others.  As long as that is done in a calm and rational way, and does not decend into crude abuse, it can be acceptable.  But the political process is at its best when parties focus on what they have done and what they want to do, rather than when they try to knock lumps out of their opponents.  In my experience of thirty years of knocking on doors and engaging with residents face-to-face, the vast majority of people are much more interested in what you are trying to achieve than in your criticisms of others.


One of my new year's resolutions, then, is to try to keep focused on the positive and avoid, as much as is humanly possible, being drawn into the negative.  I will be doing my best to carry this positive approach into the campaigning for the local elections that will soon begin in earnest.  I may not always achieve my ambition, but I will always try to explain what the council has done, is doing, and hopes to do, in preference to lambasting the current administration's opponents.


What the other side choses to do is not something I have any control over.  They may see the value of positivity as well, but they may take the view that a more negative form of politics will help them more.  We know that for some politicians, tough times provide an opportunity to play on peoples' fears rather than appeal to their hopes. We have seen over the last few years how this has stoked up division in society and led not just to verbal attacks but even to physical violence.


But I remain of the view that what most people want is an honest, rational, and grown-up appraisal of problems and a constructive, measured, and calm approach to solving them.  


And I remain convinced that hope inspires more than fear.


Stephen Conway

WBC Leader

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