Over the last few weeks there has been a series of actions and debates that in my view demands a response from politicians at both a local and national level. The failure to do so may lead to the public forcing a change that will be much more challenging for the men and women who currently have authority over the matters that need addressing. In one sense these men and women are already running to catch up with the demands that are being expressed in many settings throughout our nation. One of these was the results of the local elections at the beginning of this month which last Wednesday led to a short debate started by the MP for Eastbourne, Stephen Lloyd who asked Karen Bradley, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland “What assessment she has made of the effect of the results of the recent local elections on the political situation in Northern Ireland”. One of the reasons why he started this debate was explained by him stating he is “someone who is half Northern Irish—in fact, proudly half Northern Irish”, however in case the constituents in Eastbourne and in the surrounding area are inclined to treat this as a purely personal matter for Mr Lloyd, the debate resulted in comments from Karen that should act as a challenge to the Councillors and MPs here in Sussex along with Kent and Surrey. The contribution from Stephen, although focused on Northern Ireland also clearly resonated with local election results here in the South East, even though the details are of course very different “I was delighted to see that the party that did best at the local elections, with the highest increase, was the non-sectarian Alliance party. Would the Secretary of State share with me the joy at seeing that tremendous non-sectarian result?” Now of course under the current culture of party politics a Minister will never share any joy at the success of a party that is in competition with their own party or one they are joined up to, even if the underlying elements of the winning party relates to peace and community based prosperity. In the same way the substantial growth of the Greens, Lib Dems and Independents here in Sussex and across the South East a few weeks ago is not something that the Conservatives appear to be joyful about. However despite this challenge to tribal identity that in one sense paints over the themes that local people are really concerned about, the various responses from Karen clearly opened up the door for change to happen at local levels throughout the UK. Of course for this to take place, parties like the one Stephen was previously a member of will need to be willing to be much more flexible. The need for the Liberal Democrats in Lewes District to enable a new form of political leadership to emerge was evident to many people in an around the District and their decision to prevent this change is something that they will need to review and handle differently at the next election if they are placed in a similar position. Many of us who live in Brighton and Hove will take the same positive view of any collaboration that can be achieved between the Greens and the Labour Party even though it will require hard work. However the real issue that emerged on Wednesday was not just a matter of dominant parties losing or sharing power. Karen responded in a series of short comments by stating “I know that the parties in Northern Ireland are determined that they will do all they can to deliver restored devolved Government. That is what is best for the people of Northern Ireland and it is what the people of Northern Ireland want. But this will not be easy—there are challenges—and I ask that we all offer our support to the parties in Northern Ireland to help them to take those difficult decisions.”
The reality is that just as devolved power is vital for Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, so too we need to find ways of seeing power being devolved to communities across England. The shape and size of such structures will of course be something that needs to be debated, not just by the elected Councillors across our region, but also by the residents. And just as the need for such an approach must be embraced by people who have historically held power within their party, so they need to explore mechanisms that are much more open and accessible to people who are cynical about party politics but interested in working to improve their communities.