Local people attempting to shake up local politics
It’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.