An enemy of the people?

There’s a curious post which you can find – though not very obviously (using DuckDuckGo it’s invisible; using Google mainly not) – over at Conservative Home at the moment.

It’s titled: “A Conservative councillor: Why was Cheshire West and Chester a Labour gain?” You can read it in full here.

The article, posted anonymously, concludes the following about the previous Leader of Cheshire West & Chester Borough Council, Councillor Mike Jones:

On issue after issue, Cllr Jones ignored his own colleagues, appeared immune to public opinion, and continually demonstrated terrible political judgement. Labour portrayed him as an unrepentant, self-serving politician in their target areas of Chester and Ellesmere Port. Regular appearances in Private Eye didn’t help.

At the first annual group meeting after the election, the majority of re-elected councillors voted for the challenger to his leadership, but newer members elected in the other half of the Borough, unaffected by the issues around Chester, helped him scrape back in as leader, reportedly by two votes.

As fellow Conservatives write articles for this site, telling us of their victories in May, and as they continue to talk of their radical reforms to save money and serve their residents, Conservatives in west Cheshire will feel a twinge of angst as we recall how we lost a flagship council directly to Labour (uniquely in the country), and lost a parliamentary seat too.

Now I am personally a little unsure of what I think about the gentleman in question: I know, for example, that the political party I am a member of, Labour, universally believes he is a terribly bad egg. I’ve never liked either the way he has consistently preferred the brute force of aggressive discourse over the subtleties of assertive leadership. Whether an enemy of the people or simply a man who likes to speak his mind, only very long history will allow us to tell.

And maybe, considering the occasional dynamics of local community, not even then. Perhaps, in fact, we are in the presence of an almost back-to-front case of Henrik Ibsen’s thesis on community (the bold is mine):

In An Enemy of the People (1882), Ibsen went even further. In earlier plays, controversial elements were important and even pivotal components of the action, but they were on the small scale of individual households. In An Enemy, controversy became the primary focus, and the antagonist was the entire community.

Also (again, the bold is mine):

One primary message of the play is that the individual, who stands alone, is more often “right” than the mass of people, who are portrayed as ignorant and sheeplike. Contemporary society’s belief was that the community was a noble institution that could be trusted, a notion Ibsen challenged. In An Enemy of the People, Ibsen chastised not only the conservatism of society, but also the liberalism of the time. He illustrated how people on both sides of the social spectrum could be equally self-serving.

And:

[…] The protagonist is a physician in a vacation spot whose primary draw is a public bath. The doctor discovers that the water is contaminated by the local tannery. He expects to be acclaimed for saving the town from the nightmare of infecting visitors with disease, but instead he is declared an ‘enemy of the people’ by the locals, who band against him and even throw stones through his windows. The play ends with his complete ostracism. It is obvious to the reader that disaster is in store for the town as well as for the doctor.

So in the previous leader of Cheshire West & Chester, do we have an example of an individual who more often than not stood up against the sheep – that is to say, the enemy of the people being the people themselves in their lackadaisical and lazy ways! – or was he himself simply overacting the part to such an extent where his actions became for sure broadly counter-productive to his own cause, if not to the Borough itself?

I’ve been wondering myself, too, about this matter this evening in relation to the kinds of things I’d like to see happening in my adopted city. I’ve already pointed out how I believe in genius devolved – it’s not therefore my place to tell anyone how to do anything. Though I do get the impression some people feel this is the case.

But like any citizen living in, wishing to participate through and ultimately treasuring democracy – like any politician out there (and even as it pains us to admit or accept it) – we would, I am utterly convinced, all want to voice our concerns about the society we live in; provide possible solutions to the challenges; and, on a rolling and participative basis, be properly heard.

And I’m equally sure many of us, not just myself, think we know best what needs to be done as well.

The question is whether we are going, particularly in Chester, to be enemies of the interests of the people – whatever our politics. If Ibsen is right, to be cosily and smotheringly alleging the value of community poses as big a problem to collaborative environments as to be aggressively individualistic. When Wikipedia tells us of Ibsen’s worldview that “people on both sides of the political spectrum could be equally self-serving”, we might forget this at our peril.

The challenge then? As I tweeted just now. As individuals remember how:

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But as strategists, remind ourselves:

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