Is there a life after politics?

by Stephen Tall on April 10, 2008

So, today marked my last Council committee. Though, a la Frank Sinatra, I will have many more such ‘farewells’ in the 21 days which remain of my life as a councillor. (Last area committee, last civic occasion, last Full Council, etc.).

I took the decision a few months ago to stand down from Oxford City Council when my third term expires but have kept schtum about it – chiefly because I hated the idea of being a lame-duck councillor whose pleas to council officers were ignored because “he won’t be around for much longer”.

There’s lots of reasons for my retirement… a new house, a new job which deserves my full daytime attention, and a partner who deserves my non-work attention, a new niece… above all, a feeling that I don’t want to turn into one of those councillors who hangs around in the hope of one day becoming Lord Mayor, rather than because they have anything fresh or energetic to offer their residents. After eight years, and three election campaigns, it’s time for me to make way for a Lib Dem campaigner with the vim and vigour to tackle the issues I have been grappling with in my ward since 2000.

There are things I will miss – my Council colleagues, and, especially, the residents I’ve got to know so well – but, if I’m honest, more that I won’t. My pet hate is meetings of Full Council: five hours of torpor in which councillors grand-stand to no purpose in the unrequited hope of being quoted in the local paper.

Its an oddity of Oxford politics that most councillors rub along together pretty well, and can find more to agree on than disagree… until they sit in the Town Hall council chamber. At which point, some form of collective guilt takes over in which councillors fear they’ve betrayed their principles by cooperating with opponents, and decide to turn into mindless, partisan morons.

Never say never and all that – and I’ve not ruled out a return to the City Council at some point – but if I never attend another meeting of Full Council, it will be too soon.

But there are things I’ve achieved, a fair number, for my residents over the years; and I will miss not being able to achieve similar such things in the future. And there are things I’ve failed to achieve, more than I’d like, for my residents over the years; and I regret I won’t be in a position to try and put that right in the years ahead.

When I finally, finally finish – on 1st May – it will be distinctly odd. The Council has been so much a part of my life for eight years that I’m curious to find out how I’ll manage without it, as I re-discover a life beyond politics. I know this is the right time to leave. But I don’t regret a moment of it. Truly, it’s been a privilege.