THREE MONTHS A COUNCILLOR
I have been a Local Government Councillor for almost three months now.
I use this space to integrate my art thinking, the local government activities I do and the politics. It’s a new way of working for me and a new space.
A FEW MUSINGS ON FORM, SPACE AND ACTION
This time I said I would say something about Form, which for me sits within Space and Action. The relationship is ambiguous which any person who has thought deeply about these things would tell you and articulate in a better way than I am about to do. The Planning Committee is the main driver for this article.
There’s something about actually standing in an open space that beats the theoretical experience of the space one sees on the page. I am thinking of the brief setting descriptions that are given in play-scripts; my own are probably too dense and intense. Then again I wonder if mine are really play-scripts in the traditional sense. For me the words are just never enough to describe what you envisage with regard to setting/concept. In the traditional sense this is up to the director’s interpretation and one would usually throw out all this along with stage directions and start again, hence the vivid adaptations of well-known works. But for me as a live artist, how the work is formed and made is just as much the overall concern. Writing it down is quite important I think.
Maybe the connection is more akin to the words of a Manifesto that promises everything but it’s only when you stand and deliver that it really means something. So is your action only retained for the time you get to play out your power on the stage of government? Maybe not. You campaign on a Manifesto. You “do stuff” whether in power or opposition, so you are realising and “actioning” in the moment, live and for real. A Manifesto can be a living script, live, in action and formed – manifested. Whereas the play-script may stay tucked away in a drawer until someone (director/producer) has the finance/will/commission to make it happen. So maybe Manifesto has more potential as an integrated form in action and space. It can begin to happen now.
MORNING TRIP WITH THE PLANNING COMMITTEE
My experience of being a councillor on the Planning Committee is connected here. We go to sites to be in the places listed for change and development. We visit the controversial, difficult sites, the ones that cause debate. We are ‘actioning’ but in the imagination. We go on a mini-bus trip reminiscent of a 6th Form theatre trip. The same guys always sit at the back. It’s better when we get off the bus and stand in the space rather than look at the space from the window of the bus. There’s always one place on the visit where we just view from the window. It’s usually a private space so I guess that’s why.
The planning officers are our tour guides with a script they riff off based on the committee members’ questions. The officers field heckles and jokes from the old timers and there’s never enough actual time on the trip. There’s never enough time for anything because the hours and hours have been spent in the office with the paperwork I guess. Each time I read a planning script I am in awe of the spadework the officers do, the chapter and verse, the knowledge of law. It’s like reading Shakespeare. So in my prep reading I grapple with its language and imagine its manifestation on the stage that will be the site. Yet I know that it may still go back in the drawer, but at least there’s that place of imagining in actual time and space and almost for real. It’s one step on from the script sitting in a slush pile I suppose because the words and drawings on the page are nothing compared to the reality of the space where you place your feet, looking up and down and in all directions possible. You stand and see from a neighbour’s point of view. You hear the road traffic. You smell the congestion. You look out across the water towards the wind turbines and think how the developer and the owner of the land might see a very special sunset over the Irish Sea from this new perspective. You may not fully realise the experience in a full blown performance but you do get to do just more than read the script. There is an actioning and an actualisation, form taking place that goes beyond the page. And it happens in the designated space.
In these lived, real experiences, these live moments in space your imagination is fired by questions that may be everything and nothing to do with the words in the planning documents, the script: how many people could adequately be housed in that space? How high might three containers be? On paper they might seem like Lego pieces or the red hotels on a Monopoly board. In reality they are giants. Giants, piled up on top of each other with the branding of their owners. On site, these giants show evidence that they are sprayed out and fumigated by tiny Jacks of the Beanstalk kind. These giants dwarf our planning team and the tour guides worry for our safety with the coming and going of the giants’ chariots.
YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE IN ANFIELD
Another space cross-over I experienced this month was ‘Walking the Ward’ in Anfield with a political slogan in mind. Mine was ‘Power to the Imagination’.
To give a bit of background here: I applied and was accepted to attend a training event taking place in Liverpool and London aimed at political artist/activists organised by Liverpool based Tim Jeeves and Liverpool based artist-colleague-turned-Councillor Lena Simic. The common ground of Arts and Politics seemed appropriate and it included a visit to Westminster, an offer I couldn’t refuse. I want to find a way of marrying my artistic work with my political work and this course was a gem. The whole experience was supported by LADA’s DIY scheme.
One of the activities we did was what I like to call ‘Walking the Ward’, something I did with full effort many times when standing to be a councillor for Norwood Ward earlier this year and the exercise reminded me of the dreaming I do when I leaflet and canvass my own ward; the stories I tell myself and the changes I envisage. The inner and outer worlds of action and imagination are profound in this meditative space, particularly for leafleting when you are usually silent.
There is something about exploring the big space that is your own ward; there’s something about walking in the footsteps of the planning report and there’s something about visiting a stranger’s house to talk about a housing issue that all ties up with the very preliminary work of research and development in theatre and performance making. That space before form but that is of itself form, where you are forming the idea, the dream, the vision, the manifesto. The “at home” verbatim conversations with constituents play on your mind and you want to write the script, make the move, change the government, transform the world in one fell swoop. But you can’t. The script holds you back, the production becomes to expensive, the time is not right, the players are not in position, the casting doesn’t work, so things go back in the drawer for the time being.
Today in the Planning Van I thought: what will this activity be like in the winter?
Later today we will be in a performance: the planning meeting where all the scripts have been absorbed and the show goes on in front of the public, like a rehearsed script-in-hand reading. I play a spear-carrier at the moment because I am a newbie. There’s even a green room feeling before the event and the public committee meeting is the closest version of a fully participatory performance I have experienced that is not an art project in the obvious sense. I have to tell you more about this next time.
For those of you who are interested, here is some of the detail of what I have been doing since I last wrote:
I had a one to one with my mentor Councillor Trish Hardy, Cabinet Member for Housing and Communities. This proved to be really important due to a housing issue that came up this month. She also helped me with the work balance issues regarding political activity within the CLP (serving Labour members) and local government activity (serving all constituents). I observed Trish Hardy’s Cabinet portfolio meeting with Housing and Communities.
I met with the Councillor Paul Cummins, Cabinet Member for Adult Health and Social Care because I felt I needed an insight into the workings of that committee and he gave me a whistle-stop tour training session on the NHS.
I attended a training session in Preston with the LGA (Local Government Association), a cross-party organisation.
Planning Committee is really good on training and we were given the option to choose our training needs at the pre-planning training session that happens each time we meet for Planning Committee. In that sense we inform our own training.
OFFICIAL COUNCIL WORK:
I visited Aintree Hospital with members of Adult Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee to look at their A & E department their Dementia Ward.
I wrote numerous emails to local residents and Arriva officials with regard to the bus issue and the closure of the 46a route.
I met with Arriva staff several times including a residents’ meeting I organised with regard to proposed cuts to a bus route affecting my constituents.
I attended the Tyndall Centre in Liverpool for a meeting on Climate Change with regard to the Scatter Tool for Local Authorities developed by University of Manchester. I was disappointed not to be able to attend the more interactive session but we were busy in Southport forming policy contributions for the Labour Party Policy Commission on the NHS.
I met with Meols Ward branch member Terry Rickuss about Community Action ideas.
I attended the Adult Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee, Children and Safeguarding Committee and two Planning Committee meetings.
I attended the Labour Group meeting that sits prior to full Council Meeting.
I had a fair bit of case work. It’s private so I can’t write about it.
I shadowed Councillor Mhairi Doyle in her surgery for Norwood Residents. I held my own surgery this week. Nobody came. Our surgeries are new and we have to work on getting them advertised.
I walked the ward and visited postal voters who had brought up issues during the election campaign.
I began to build a network of residents interested in tidying up the ward and making it look beautiful.
We met as Norwood Ward Councillors with Joe McNulty who heads up the High Park Project in Norwood Ward and Sue Ashe, Area Coordinator to discuss green projects in Norwood and other neighbourhood issues.
Our Norwood team met with Cabinet Member John Fairclough and some of his team over traffic issues in our ward.
All the Southport Councillors met with the Southport Operations teams for specifically “Southport stuff”.
LABOUR PARTY ACTIVITY
WOMEN’S OFFICER WORK:
This month we had meetings in our CLP – a motion on women’s participation and election of officers for our Women’s Forum as well as AGMs for branches and our CLP AGM. I organised three Coffee and Politics Sessions in three different coffee shops in town. We posted an extensive document to the Labour Party Policy Commission on the NHS. I was elected as chair of the women’s forum and we had a pre-planning meeting and the first meeting of the Women’s Forum run by a new executive committee. We began to plan the year’s programme of activities. We had our first E.C. meeting following the AGM.
I attended a campaign meeting with our Liz Savage our Parliamentary Candidate. I attended a debrief meeting on the local election campaign. I delivered three sets of leaflets to three different road groups: two in Norwood and one in Meols Ward. The Norwood deliveries included an advertisement for the High Park Project Community Action Group.
I attended my ward meeting where we made fundraising plans and looked at the CLP action plan.
Yesterday Jeremy Corbyn visited Southport and yet again I failed to get a photograph with him. So here is one I took from the audience.
I wrote this blog entry.
I wrote a poem: A Political Artist’s Manifesto for Norwood or is it Meols?
(A Tale of Two Wards)
I worked for five intermittent days with bassoonist Luke Crookes on a newly forming work we are making together.