Stand for the council? You must be joking

Things have changed rather a lot in local government since this 1950 photograph (which shows Great Y

Things have changed rather a lot in local government since this 1950 photograph (which shows Great Yarmouth Borough Council in session). Picture: Archant library - Credit: Archant

Keith Skipper explains why you'll never find his name on a council election leaflet.

One of the questions I'm posed most often is why I've never stood for election as a proud and outspoken stalwart of the ever-burgeoning Norfolk Independence Party.

There may be a hint of flattery in such an inquiry – at least the old boy is not tied to any rigid formula for taking our county forward – but several clearly employ it as a sly dig at someone apparently ill at ease in the real world.

My official answer, of course, is that I am far too busy keeping a careful watch on those entrusted with big decisions shaping Norfolk's future, especially when it comes to the big question of development, and I cherish regular chances to offer unbiased observations from such platforms as this.

The honest answer, of course, is that I don't fancy the hours or the inevitable torrents of abuse bound to follow my every utterance, mainly from spittle-flecked, table-thumping folk who didn't vote for me or anyone else in the first place.

The inexorable rise of social media and all the new ways of being unpleasant it offers must be considered by anyone bold enough to step into a public spotlight. Rising to the top in local politics can be tantamount to mixing yourself a toxic cocktail of constant criticism, unfair can-carrying, late nights and early retirement.

Another key reason why I don't want to be involved is because I wouldn't last five minutes in the council chamber without upsetting a well-meaning colleague keen on 'sustainable growth' – about as meaningful as 'affordable housing' – or earnest young officers who know the national government's revamped National Planning Policy Framework off by heart.

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Local government leads easily to high blood pressure and low-blow tactics, even among those who take what many see as the soft option and abstain on important issues. I value my health sufficiently to stay on the outside looking in and wondering what on earth our precious little bit of the world is coming to.

I can do that sort of wondering on my regular wanders along Cromer's clifftop path. Fresh air goes well with stale mutterings and I don't have to interrupt myself on a point of order. Plenty to ponder after an incinerator supporter told a heated County Hall gathering a few years back 'Norfolk people tend to follow like sheep'.

That kind of woolly indictment is only a rung or two up the stereotyped ladder from inbreeding and 'futility' rites behind the bike-shed on moonlit nights before bullace-picking time. It's also at sharp odds with the shrewd little sermon from a previous Bishop of Norwich as he weighed up a cussed streak running through certain members of his flock.

He hinted memorably: 'The only way to lead Norfolk people is to find out which way they're going – and then walk in front of them'. Or, as an old friend from the sticks used to say: 'There aren't many onnus left, so we myte as well spreed out an'stick tergether'.

I recall a newcomer to the county taking his place on Mitford and Launditch Rural District Council in the early 1960s. He confided to me after a few meetings that he already realised automatic aversion to change should not be encouraged – except where it might have an obvious impact on what seemed to have always been there. He lasted longer than most.

As a full-time resident of Cromer since 1988, I keep a close eye on town and district council affairs. Certain issues become intertwined, feeding the old complaint about the layer just above ignoring or messing about with folk who know best on the layer just below.

There are added complications when councillors sit on both bodies at the same time and apparently feel moved to tailor their comments and decisions to suit the moment rather than the long-term good. Occasionally, a 'triple-hatter' emerges with a county council seat to keep warm as well.

Is it too cynical to suggest youthful cries go largely unheeded in north Norfolk because they don't vote, will probably be gone before they do and most elected representative have little or no idea what goes on outside their comfort zones?

Meanwhile, I promise to vote at the next local elections for anyone who promises to get rid of pesky pigeons, promiscuous parking, dirty dog-owners and dastardly drivers who pass my home while clutching and prattling into mobile phones.

Oh, and 'sustainable growth'.