Eric Pickles is Coalition marmite. His bluff northern manner oozes the kind of ‘tell it like it is’, ‘no-nonsense’, ‘wont suffer fools gladly’ demeanour that the traditional Tory faithful love. Those who don’t love him will instead perceive him as arrogant, aloof and missing any emotional intelligence. He is the John Prescott of the right. I’m sure both men will be aghast at the comparison but there it is.
Being a ‘character’ in a political landscape devoid of them can be a real advantage climbing the greasy pole. The flipside is the rod for your own back when you’ve made it and it’s time to start delivering stuff. Eric has a twin curse. His lovers all have unrealistic expectations that he can and will ‘just wade through the crap and get stuff done’. His haters meanwhile will leap on his every effort with extra venom to ensure anything he comes up with will fail.
The announcement by Pickles on the weekly bin collection underlines his personal challenge. You can feel tangible disappointment from his supporters in Manchester that he had to go down a very costly incentive route. The old guard can’t understand why ‘no-nonsense Eric’ couldn’t just impose it as a ‘must-do’ for councils. Aside the legislative challenge of making such a requirement there would also be the glaring contradiction between being champions of localism and any top-down dictat. It had to be an incentive route. The trouble is that this requires the money to be seen, and this is an absolute gift for his detractors to yell ‘fiddling while Rome burns’ and point out all the other things that a Government could spend a quarter of a billion pounds on in a time of financial crisis. He’s been on a hiding to nothing.
For all the reality of the politics I really believe he’s done the right thing. Refuse collection is the most basic core service for a council to deliver. Yes, you absolutely can just about get by leaving your rubbish fortnightly but the reality for many of us nowadays with shift work or working away from home in the week is that it is often impossible to get your rubbish out every time on the specific due day. On a fortnightly cycle if you miss one collection you’ll go a full month. Never mind the stench – that is a public health issue. The biggest winners from fortnightly collections are rats and foxes. Public sanitation gains have been hard won over the last century, the national drift to fortnightly collections has risked surrendering them.
And yes, I know there are many out there who take huge pride in their recycling efforts and somehow manage to get their rubbish so that they only actually have to leave black bags out once a year or whatever. Hey – all power to your elbow. Well done. I salute you. You’re great, and I’m sure you feel it. But for the rest of us flawed lot, who honestly recycle with best endeavour rather than fervour, who have kids with disposable nappies, and who shamefully do buy convenience food and takeaways and other modern stuff that generates waste – and carry our share of liberal guilt for doing so – we nevertheless don’t want that (or our equally guilty neighbours share) festering in our neighbourhood. So hurrah for the weekly bin collection, and hurrah for Eric for doing whatever he realistically can to preserve it.