Sutton councillors are set to approve a new committee structure to run the authority at Full Council on Monday, and the ruling Lib Dem group have decided on who fills which position. Sadly none of the roles involves me, so life at the very back of the backbenches continues.
Having been rejected for two vice-chair positions I now enter the second half of my council term yet to climb onto the first rung of the council structure.
As someone who was Editor of a weekly newspaper, and who has won national awards for my campaigning and writing, I happen to think that Sutton are failing to utilize my talents. In addition to my ward duties I’ll just have to direct my energies instead towards Liberal Left, the new organisation campaigning for the party to return to social-Liberal values of equality and a change in direction of the whole party.
I will also be continuing my commitment to the Race Equality Taskforce, which was set up by Nick Clegg after his Scarman Lecture to investigate what policies the party could adopt to tackle race inequality in Britain.
Sometimes it appears that there is no place in the Lib Dems for people like myself. I suspect it has more the colour of my politics than anything else. I’ve always been resolute in my beliefs, and if people disagree I’ve always welcomed a debate. None of my political colleagues in Sutton have ever spoken to me about race equality, which can mean only one of three things: either they agree with me, or they lack the courage to speak about it to my face, or they just don’t care. As the country is so unequal when it comes to racial outcomes, as Liberals they should care.
I’ve been around the block so the pattern of good old Liberal politeness while being excluded from positions of responsibility is not new to me. This is a phenomenon seen all over the Lib Dem party, across the country. As an executive member of the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats group, I’ve spoken to many black and Asian members at party conferences who have told me about the challenges they face in their own local parties. I have heard the stories from party activists in other boroughs.
I watched with dismay at the way the local party treated one of the new BAME councillors elected in 2010, Jennifer Campbell-Klomps. She resigned last year citing an impending move overseas which promoted the Worcester Park by-elecction, but was not happy about a few things.
As I am unwanted for even the lowest vice-chair position I will be redefining for myself the role of a backbencher for the remaining part of my term in office. I have so far managed to combine being loyal to the ruling group when it comes to voting, with being independent-minded. However, I am increasingly of the view that the example of a backbench MP is one that should also fit with local government.
Most backbenchers have the interests of their party high on their agenda but at the same time they elevate the issues they care about highly too, and are not afraid to speak out in public as well as behind the scenes. Loyalty is a two-way process which requires being recognised for talents. As I remain a role-less backbencher in the civic centre I must define for myself what and how I make a contribution to the borough.