Wednesday, 22 February 2012

What price democracy? 1K, apparently.

I live in a town where the local council is above average in age, blueness, and wealth. There are a few LibDems, but I don't count them anymore, as they are now pale blue too. In short, our local town council is generally seen, by anyone under 45 as being non-representative of the majority of the town, as the town also includes lots of young families and "incomers", and the Council is a bastion of "old families" and friends of friends.  We can of course argue that it is the fault of the voters that this lot got in, but many people, like me, were unable to vote last election, as there were no candidates, other than Conservative, for their wards.

We are now in a strange situation, as one councillor has resigned. As it is a LOOOOONG time until the next general election, the current council incumbents are allowed to co-opt a councillor (ie: choose someone themselves) if there are not enough people writing to the Returning Officer to ask for an election. As you can imagine, this has not been widely publicised, aside from the notice pinned to the Council board, not even on Council webpages. Until, that is, an eagle eyed person spotted the notice and flagged it up on Shape Your Place. I have written to the Returning Officer asking for an election, and so have some other people I know. To my mind, this is an opportunity to vote for someone new and inject life into the Council. Maybe someone not-blue would stand, and people would vote for them. And without an election, a co-option would undoubtedly lead to a meeting in the Conservative Club and another identikit councillor being put in place. Now, i'm not so naive as to think that even with an election, this might not happen anyway, and in fact i'm pretty sure that even as I type the Conservative Supporter Association are grinding their gears up a notch. But it's about transparency, and democracy, and the right of people not to be told what is happening, but to choose. I'd have thought that was pretty straightforward.

But apparently, it's not. Apparently, asking for an election is undemocratic, since it will cost the Council money. The LibDems have come out and said they won't be asking for an election, thanks very much (sniffs, retreats to high horse), as they don't want to cost the Council money. By implication, anyone who does ask for an election is a terrible sprendthrift who is probably right this minute snatching bus services from the good people of Chatteris. Oh, no, hang on..... Plus there are some pretty directed remarks about how councillors need to to listen to people and not have ideas. I can't imagine who the remarks are directed at.

Thing is, I was vacillating about whether to stand if there was an election or not. But the reaction from the LibDems so far is nudging me toward doing it. I'm pretty good at playground politics. Yes, 1K is a lot. But on the promise of a secret ballot of a bunch of councillors who basically act as a hive mind most of the time, the prospect of co-option doesn't strike me as being fair or representative of the people of Mills Ward, most of whom, it is fair to say, are probably deeply uninterested in the issue, or haven't yet realised what is happening. I suppose what offeneds me most is that it's just assumed that the good people of Chatteris want this paternalistic attitude of "we know best", and won't object. And that to object is somehow wrong. It's like being told off by your mum. In a blue rinse.

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