Ely & District Progressives

Local people attempting to shake up local politics

District Council at loggerheads

ECDC-building-smallIt’s been an interesting week of shenanigans at the district council.

First, a number of Tory Councillors resigned from the boards of the two trading companies which undertake much of the council’s business. They resigned to avoid the conflict of interest which barred them from voting at council meetings and left the Tory group in the minority.

Next, the LibDem Councillors stormed out of the shareholder meeting for the trading companies, which happened just two days after the councillors resigned, saying they were annoyed by the way the meeting was run.

The resignations and storm out are consequences of the way that councillors, elected to represent residents, instead retreat into party aligned groups and act as blocks. The Tory group of 15 councillors is desperately clinging to power with just enough votes in their group to force things through the council, unless they have a conflict of interest. The LibDem group of 13 councillors are frustratingly close to having complete control but actually have none, so storming out of meetings to get noticed is about all they can muster.

As local residents we’re left with a council locked into a static state where the slightly larger group is trying to run everything and the slightly smaller group have little to no input. If you live in a ward with a Tory councillor representing you they are probably overstretched and unable to represent you fully due to their roles on one or more committees, where they have to be unbiased rather than fight what’s best for their ward. If your ward has a LibDem councillor they have virtually no influence and will be outvoted on everything. Nobody is being represented except the leaders of the larger Tory group.

This impasse between the two groups removes any fluidity from the council. The councillors are locked down into their respective groups on every issue, there’s no discussion, debate or compromise.

This state of affairs is nicely demonstrated by the district council’s attempt to declare a climate emergency, when two motions were proposed, one by the Tories, one by the LibDems. The two groups then voted for their own motion.

Things would be different if we had proportional representation, as then there wouldn’t be a dominant group and so there would have to be discussion between the groups on each individual issue. Similarly if we had independent councillors who weren’t in any group at all that would also force the councillors to debate and discuss issues on an individual basis.

In both of these cases there wouldn’t be a dominant group whose leaders could call the shots. Instead policies and decisions would have to be debated openly. Councillors would be better able to represent the people who elected them as they would be able to work across groups rather than having to toe the line of the party group they were aligned to.

Perhaps the current council groups will start to collapse under the pressure. We’ve seen how party allegiances can breakdown in Parliament, why not in the district council too? Tory councillors with little influence within their group must be tempted to leave it, become independent and hold the balance of power. LibDems willing to break ranks may be able to get a better deal for their wards on specific issues by working with the Tory group.

Let’s hope something shifts and we get a council that represents the district rather than the leaders of the dominant group within the council.

2 comments on “District Council at loggerheads

  1. Sarah Hawkins
    October 18, 2019

    Nice article, and nice to see you supporting both (proper) PR and Independent Councillors so eloquently. (We had a discussion about the latter a few years ago and I seem to recall you were worried that Independents tended to act as wildcards. I think I said that there’s no necessary correlation, especially if most people are Independents. Then it’s easier for each person to have a thing called a conscience!)
    However, while I’d love everything you say to be true, I think the case is slightly overstated. First, PR doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no dominant party–though it would in the case of the data in the graphs you’ve supplied for our 2019 District Elections – and it’s sobering to see that Tories got far fewer than an overall majority of votes. Second, Independents can form cliques. What’s needed to avoid cliques of any sort seems likely to be a sea-change in attitude: away from adversarial expression of opinions and towards a style that favours (though doesn’t necessarily demand) consensus, which in turn involves a degree of mutual respect and tolerance often seen as weak by those who like the Westminster system., and often imagination and compromise too. If we can get British people to regard those different aims as worthwhile, then things will almost certainly improve. Meanwhile, while I was dispirited by the Climate Change ‘debate’ in the ECDC last night, I would like to thank our councillors for the effort they put in.

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  2. trimarcoblog
    October 18, 2019

    The LibDems do have some power and influence in the District Council. For the Climate motion, the Tories agreed to change the motion to a Climate Emergency – they had it as ‘Climate Change.’ Furthermore, LibDem points made during the meeting were cheered by the members of the public audience. That can have an effect later at committee level. Sure, there are plenty of things that the Tories were able to keep on their motion despite the LibDem efforts.
    As for the meeting that the LibDems ‘stormed out of’, it was a walk out because the meeting was announced as being with the Directors of the council run companies, but the directors were not present and the meeting was being chaired by the Conservative Chair of the Council and was closed to the public.
    By now, you’ve probably gathered that I’m a LibDem Councillor – guilty as charged. For me, and this might be a personal thing, I feel the influence of the Liberal Democratic presence in this council happens when it comes to answering my constituents individually and helping them with community and personal concerns -that’s where progressive thinking is different from that of the Tories.
    Paola Trimarco
    Councillor
    Ely West

    Like

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This entry was posted on October 18, 2019 by in Uncategorized.