The night before last I was in our local council chamber, watching the planning committee in action.
I was there to support some friends who had the last of a whole string of planning applications up that night. If this one went through, it would give them permanent permission to operate their business - microlighting and skydiving from a delightful Wiltshire location. They have had huge trouble from a very small bunch of protestors, who totally fail to represent local opinion in the village, but who have continued to find every excuse to hold up and disrupt the process. Tonight was the bad guys' last chance to torpedo things - so it was almost an anti-climax when the whole thing went through with no opposition.
However, it was truly fascinating to see local democracy in action. If you've never attended a local government session, I'd strongly recommend it. After all, these people are making decisions that will have a direct impact on your life. I don't know if all council meetings are open to members of the public, but the planning committee certainly is.
The decisions these ordinary folk from the local areas are having to make can be quite complex. Yes there are straightforward planning applications, but also considerations like whole new schools and all the infrastructure implications that go with them. Despite all the 'little local despots' caricatures, these people are doing a hard job on our behalf.
Of course you get the people who love the sound of their own voice - and those who find it difficult to string together a sentence in a way anyone can understand, or who drift off onto subjects not under discussion - but at this meeting, at least, an efficient chair and the professional support staff keep it on track with tact and good grace. I was pleasantly impressed.