The third envelope
STUDENTS of History and Politics understand that there’s times when change isn’t just needed, it’s inevitable. Comparing some of the UK’s most celebrated leaders:
Lloyd-George (Lib) who up until the Paris Pace conference could do no wrong, and after which could do no right;
Churchill (Nat) who up until the end of WW2 held the country together through its darkest hour, yet immediately afterwards was booted out;
Attlee (Lab) whose huge majority in 1945 led him to become the architect of modern Britain, yet whose political exhaustion just six years later bequeathed a party split that continues today.
Thatcher (Con) who as a practical socialist had reformed the worst of the welfare state, until she was “savaged by a dead sheep” - resigning just fifteen days after Geoffrey Howe’s speech.
And though it can’t be proved, it seems the seeds of their greatness were those of their downfall too.
Change in politics isn’t just restricted to the UK and there’s a story regarding Brezhnev succeeding Kruschev in the USSR, probably apocryphal.
Getting to the General Secretary’s desk in the Kremlin, Brezhnev opened one of the drawers and found three envelopes with Kruschev’s spidery handwriting on them saying ‘to be opened in the event of the first crisis’; second crisis; third crisis and so on.
Putting them back and forgetting all about them, they only came to mind a year later when there was a crisis. Opening the first one, Kruschev’s advice was simple ‘Blame your predecessor’. Brezhnev did and the crisis disappeared.
The next crisis two years later there was no hesitation. Opening the second envelope, the advice was even simpler - ‘Reorganise’. Lo and behold, the crisis went away, albeit slowly.
Decades passed and it was in failing health that Brezhnev ordered the third envelope brought to him. His heart gave out when he read Kruschev’s last piece of advice : ‘Prepare three envelopes’.
The point is simple - getting as well as giving good advice when you’re leader can be really, really, difficult.
Begging your pardon …
The twice-reorganised Executive Team were pretty much all present at last week’s Exec Meeting, as were the Liberal Democrat opposition to ask questions. The Labour questioner was absent.
The scene was set - although set for what wasn’t quite as clear as usual, since the Interim CEO had parted company with WBC earlier in the week somewhat suddenly.
Between the public (that’s us) and the members (your councillors), there was a range of questions concerning: a street lamp, a railway bridge, business rates, design of new houses, parking, drilling, cycleways, waste charges, and overspends (x3).
Pardon, you’re begging …
The first question could well have been ‘how many people at Shute End does it take to change a light-bulb’ ? as the first anniversary of the unlit street lamp was only days away.
The second was about replacing the temporary Tan Hill railway bridge - a matter so old the answer came by steam. Still, at least one of Wokingham’s railway bridges won a national award last month (for a model railway).
Noting that even Conservative ministers had advised against charging for DIY household waste, one Lib Dem questioner asked “when Re3 will be taking advice … and ceasing making these charges which, as you know, may well be unlawful?”
This produced the curious but irrelevant response that “Re3 does not charge for household waste, so your question is incorrect” before stating that WBC “have introduced charges for the disposal of nonhousehold waste, such as soil, rubble and so on”.
Answering the supplementary question, after a long list of materials that sure sounded like DIY waste, WBC’s Minister for Waste explained that they were all classed as industrial waste, therefore chargeable.
His answer went on to make political comparisons with two Liberal controlled / influenced councils – Cornwall and Portsmouth – who also charge for DIY waste.
What wasn’t mentioned in all this comparative politics was that there’s no charge for DIY waste at Conservative run Northamptonshire council (up to four trips in 60 days). Mind you, Northamptonshire effectively declared themselves bankrupt in February this year, their Leader resigned in March, then ‘left the Conservative party’ in August. Their Cabinet Member for Finance was sacked after he’d refused to resign.
Overspent and Running Late
Positioned last, it appeared the three overspends were the big questions of the night.
The news in People Services was that the 2017 overspend of £1.204M had now been separated. Questions on the overspends
(£0.8M Adult Services and £0.996M Children Services) were answered by their respective Executive Members. While the separation was enlightening, the answers weren’t.
The answer to the Market Place overspend question made it clear that the £400k of ‘contingency’ had been spent, also that an extra £370k spend was in dispute.
Discussions then moved on to other matters, including the
Local Plan Update where the new schedule showed that Wokingham’s Local Plan would go to the
Secretary of State in Spring 2021 for approval.
Compared to 2016’s schedule, this is now running two-and-a-half years late.
And well after the local elections in 2019 and 2020.