Cleaning up

October 22, 2004 ,

THE best lessons in politics don’t come from text books or fellow politicians but from people.

When I was first elected to Cardiff City Council in 1991, I took my parents to the ceremony to install the Lord Mayor.

The event was held at the City Hall in the grand marble hall upstairs. It was the first time my mother had been inside.

I asked her what she thought, and looking around at the floors, pillars and high ceilings she said,
“Imagine if you had to clean all this”.

My mother worked as a school dinner lady, and later as an office cleaner.
It struck me that to be of any use in politics, you really needed to try to see the world through the eyes of a cleaner.

It’s easy for many of us not to notice cleaners.
They work the most unsociable hours for low pay.
If you work in an office, they are also the ones who know everything that is going on.

Perhaps it is because they are nearly invisible that many cleaning contracts were privatised in the 1980s, and their pay and conditions cut even further.

Trying to cut cleaning contracts to the bone is a false economy, particularly in the NHS.

We see part of the legacy of that approach in the spread of the MRSA bug in hospitals.
Everyone now realises that poor standards of hygiene have helped the bug establish itself to such an extent that it is difficult to get rid of.

If Mrs Thatcher had had the imagination to see the world through the eyes of a cleaner, she would have known the consequences of downgrading the job.
So next time you walk into your local shop, office, school or hospital, remember the people who clean up after you’ve gone.