Aisha Iqbal: Enough bluster - let’s make 2018 the year of the people

The council chamber at Leeds Civic Hall
The council chamber at Leeds Civic Hall
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Big words and bluster are a staple of the Leeds Civic Hall diet at any time of the year, but they are especially prevalent in January, when our politicians - like the rest of us - are refreshed from the festive break and are eager to start anew.

And so it was at this week’s full council meeting, the first of 2018, where a debate about housing achieved nothing at all apart from allowing councillors to huff and puff about a topic that has become a political football in the last few years - the city’s housing targets. This debate took more than an hour, in a meeting lasting six hours, which yours truly sat faithfully through both in the chamber and on the web stream.

However there is something that has been bugging me. If the full council is about democracy in action and reaching out to the public at large, then there wasn’t a huge amount of that going on.

It’s a topic I’ve been whingeing about this week to senior officers and councillors.

The community deputations - where campaigners get to come and address the chamber directly - are a fantastic tool, and it’s good they are done at the start of the meeting. But after that it gets a little more tedious, as backbenchers get a chance to speak about any ‘minute’ from any public meeting from the previous month. I’m not saying this isn’t valuable at some level, but it’s just as often as not about grandstanding. And this time-consuming section means that another important bit - questions to the administration - inevitably gets truncated. Furthermore the White Paper debates - the evening’s key political debates - are done right at the end, when all but the most dogged have given up. Perhaps a rethink of the format is in order this year? Just a thought. But it would certainly help the council reach out to the general electorate a little bit more.

And in this, the year of the all out local elections, that’s something no-one who is hoping to have a seat in the chamber after May should take lightly.