Guest blog: Paul Clein reflects on losing his seat on Liverpool council and returning to 'conventional life'
I spent about one third of my life (so far) as a member of Liverpool City Council until I lost my Greenbank seat on May 5th.
From 1984 onwards, I had resisted regular invitations to become directly involved in local politics. Four years as a parent governor at my children's primary school convinced me otherwise. I concluded that getting elected was the best means to try to effect positive change in the City's Education Service which was a low priority for the Council's then Labour administration.
I joined the Liberal Democrats in 1991 and was a successful candidate the following year. I believe I was a dedicated, proactive and conscientious ward Councillor and that my defeat in 2011 had nothing to do with me personally nor was it any reflection on the job I did. The voters in Liverpool were understandably angry at the coalition government and acted accordingly.
I am now in the process of returning to a more conventional way of life. During my 19 year term of office, I usually worked an average 3 days per week as a self-employed locum pharmacist and I now intend to do this on a more full time basis. I know I am in a more fortunate position than some of my erstwhile colleagues who were, in effect, full time Councillors. Some lost their seats and became unemployed. Unlike MPs in a similar position, there are no parachute payments or any other assistance for losing Councillors.
It has been touching to have so many enquiring about my wellbeing since the election, including a surprisingly sizable number of Labour Councillors. Despite most people's expectations to the contrary, I actually feel liberated, not least because I had anticipated losing for several months beforehand and had prepared myself psychologically. I feel like I now have my life back. Being a Council member can be an all-consuming way of life. It certainly was for me.
In future also (and this is not an exhaustive list):
Â· I will have my Tuesday nights back (no more weekly advice surgeries);
Â· I will no longer have to plan all holidays and time off around scheduled Council and Committee meetings. I will now be able to have more than two weeks leave if I choose (every year since 1992 except one, Jan and I had zero, one or two weeks off);
Â· I can now work as a pharmacist on Wednesdays and Fridays, which I hardly ever did when a Councillor as I usually kept at least those two days free each week for Council business;
Â· No more evenings going straight from work to attend residents meetings in draughty halls, followed by dinner at 9.30 or 10pm;
Â· I will be able to see our three children, family members and friends more often;
Â· I will be able to go to more concerts and football matches if I wish;
Â· I can start working my way through the accumulated DVDs, CDs and books which I haven't had time for up to now. I used to read 2 or 3 books a week before I was elected. Since 1992 it's been more like 2 or 3 a year because of the myriad reports that I had to read and digest the contents of. (I was congenitally unable to go into a meeting without having read the agenda papers thoroughly.)
Â· I can start to reclaim our front room which has been largely used to accommodate four filing cabinets and a bookcase of Council related documents, most of which I envisage will end up in the recycling bin in the near future.
It is said that all political careers end in failure. Having achieved pretty much what I set out to achieve in my 10 years as the Council's Education / Children's Services spokesperson between 1998 and 2008, I don't feel like a failure. Apart from the obvious such as improved standards, better school buildings and preventing the 1999 privatisation of the Education Service, I am particularly pleased about the pioneering work done via our successful Schools Parliament, Primary Modern Foreign Languages programme and the Bullying Audit and Anti-Bullying Strategy, all of which I initiated. I was not a one man band of course and could not have achieved anything without the support of my party colleagues and even on occasion the co-operation of our political opponents. I also got to be a prominent member of an administration which transformed our great City for the better in many ways.
As for the future, who knows? I have no current inclination to attempt a return to local politics, nor do I expect to, but one should never say never in politics. As the Chinese say, we are living in interesting times and I believe our society is at risk of becoming very polarised in the next few years, something which could have disproportionate effects on our City. I am always very wary of vested interest, but in the increasingly stark struggle in the UK between capital and labour, like most Liberal Democrats in Liverpool, I know where my sympathies predominantly lie and it isn't with the plutocrats and multinationals.
As I wrote in my election address to my constituents just before the election, whatever the result on May 5th it was a privilege to serve them and our city for 19 years. That remains my view.