It’s great when two ideas collide and produce something more than the sum of the parts.

A few days ago I mentioned the inspirational keynote speech Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave at the Commonwealth Local Government Conference back in 2005.

Today I turned to the list of “Koehler” topics I’d committed myself to blogging about (see footnote) and there staring out at me was her suggestion to blog on I saw an inspirational talk and what I’ll do differently.

I hadn’t marked it out as one of her suggestions to use but I have to now, don’t I?

So Tutu’s speech it is.

We don’t often take the high ground when we talk about local government in this country.

The daily grind doesn’t help – of budget cuts, perceived failures (from the death of a vulnerable child to the latest pothole shock horror), not to mention squabbles with the centre amongst much else.

And we take so much for granted (see my post on the Financial Times’ Slow Lane column for example).

A turnout in a council election of 40% is a cause for congratulation when it really means 60% of our fellow citizens can’t be bothered to vote.

Tutu provided an antidote to all this.

Quoting him is the easiest way to make the point.

For the people who matter, the electorate at the local level, it is not about eloquent disquisitions about ideological and other high faluting theses.  What matters for them are mundane down to earth, bread and butter things that have to do with delivery…Are they or are they not going to get that much needed school?…Will they get electricity coming to their homes so that they won’t have to use polluting coal fires?…Will there be community libraries and recreation centres with swings and roundabouts for the children?…Are the police people-friendly and efficient and effective as a crime detection and prevention agency?…Are those with disabilities and children and other vulnerable members of society adequately catered for?

Central and second tier governments can talk until they are blue in their faces about their splendid policies which may in fact be so but, unless the people at the coalface of life experience them through service delivery, it is all vanity of vanities as the good book says in Ecclesiastes…

The electorate needs to be vigilant and ready to pounce on any evidence of unresponsive and indifferent elected representatives… for power does tend to corrupt…

Human rights are universal or they are nothing.  When they are violated anywhere we should say so clearly and unambiguously otherwise we are colluding with the violators and are in a sense accessories after the fact.

There is more, some of it specifically directed at countries and regimes in his own continent

We should be tough with Presidents and other heads of State who want to become Presidents for life and who do so by tinkering with the constitution of their land.

Nothing like that here of course.

But when we ran a workshop about the system of local government in Scotland (the conference was in Aberdeen) African delegates were universally surprised that councillors in the UK could go on being elected time and time again.  They believed that two terms was enough for all sorts of good reasons.  I thought quietly of a councillor I knew who had been re-elected continuously for a record 58 years.  In all honesty, wasn’t it way too long?

We should not be smug.  We can learn much from other societies and continents, as well as being inspired by their great men.

You can read Tutu’s whole speech on the web.  Do.  It’s well worth it.

This is Topic 5 of a response to a suggestion for topics to blog about made by Ingrid Koehler of Local Government Improvement and Development.  Topic 4 lists the earlier three posts in the series.