There is common ground between Labour and the Conservatives on the
importance of many social issues, if not on the possible solutions.
We can agree, hopefully, that in this world offering unprecedented
“opportunity for all”, a slogan trumpeted by Conservative and
Labour governments, an increasing number of our citizens inhabit a
world with very limited horizons.
While you may not expect me, as a Conservative, to advocate
politicians taking the prime role of social engineers – in fact,
they tend to be at their worst when they attempt to do so – clearly
we all live with the consequences of those who feel that the walls
around them form a prison as opposed to a sanctuary. We must try
and help people break out and seize opportunities.
This is what I and fellow councillors had in mind when we took on
Union Railways North, the company engaged in redeveloping King’s
Cross into an international railway terminus. I have no grievance
against URN per se. But the imposition of 24-hour, seven day a week
operations on the grounds that the project was behind schedule
seemed to take no regard of the impact on those living within yards
of the works.
The successful appeal and the subsequent change of attitude by URN
may go some way to convince the residents that they are extremely
important people to us and worthy of respite from the disruption
which turns their homes into torture chambers.
A coherent analysis of what makes one individual feel isolated,
looking inwards, while another reaches out into this extraordinary
world of opportunities presents a challenge to any politician.
Which may partly explain my initial hesitation at serving on a
scrutiny panel on suicide prevention, set up after Camden was
dubbed the “suicide capital” of the country.
Will it actually save one life? I began with a sceptical mindset.
However, learning more about the mechanisms for identifying and
dealing with potential and actual suicide victims and their
relatives could give us some insight into why so many feel such
despair in 21st century Britain. Perhaps it can point us, as
councillors, into appreciating more fully the work done by all
those involved on the front line in social and mental health
services, charities and the emergency services. Soon I fly to
Kazakhastan for a conference… and more lessons to learn.
Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
councillor in the London Borough of Camden.