Events in neighbouring Northamptonshire highlight the risk to good governance and the values of democracy when a regime becomes focused primarily on the fortunes of the few. What is laid bare is the vulnerability of structures within public services when individuals and their cohorts are enabled and perhaps feel empowered to act with impunity if not recklessness. Their is no comfort in seeing the erstwhile colleagues pulling the curtains once the performance has ended. Both fellow Tory Councillors as well as the MPs should have acted much sooner, and for the reasons of public interest not self doubt.
We see all the same ingredients for similar set of circumstances locally whereby a single party dominates every layer of local government, indeed many Tory Councillors holding multiple roles and portfolios which in a healthy democracy would offer some counter-balance and checking. If we had a modicum of optimism for the integrity of most then just being different people within same party might have offered some comfort, alas this is not the case and indeed even worn as a badge of attainment by the few who control proceedings.
The local Labour Party has all but withdrawn from local politics and has spent increasing amount of time and resources in “cleansing its soul”. Rather than attendance of Council meetings, making informed contributions at public meetings and following up with vigour, leading community events to promote neighbourhood issues or even writing regular letters to local media – they shout into their own echo chamber. Dark days indeed.
It is a few weeks since the Octavia Hill ward by-election. I would like, again, to sincerely thank all those who voted for me. Of course I’m disappointed not to win but more importantly another opportunity, if not to bring change at least to bring forward some challenge and accountability for the majority Tories. Voters must now start to see the problems which present when there is no strong, informed opposition.
My personal view remains that non-voters provide soft support for the existing regime. It is never an act of defiance – whatever you might believe. If you do not vote in Fenland then you are endorsing the Tory candidate. At times it feels like a one-party state, and I find it incredible that with long-standing control of all tiers of local government still so much energy is put into challenging the small political opposition rather than any attempt at engagement with the wider community encouraging debate and challenge. Almost two decades of total political hegemony and still the priority seems to be about consolidating control, and for a few this seems to be an avenue only for personal promotion.
Recent events have only increased my level of anxiety about the local situation. Going back over the past couple of years there have been a steady stream of local politicians who have faced criminal charges as well as conduct hearings. There are now accusations of misconduct against more local Councillors; there seems to be a complete absence of humility or any attempt other than self-preservation. This is no good for democracy, but it is not just those who stand but also for the electors to ponder.
The local Labour Party has made considerable progress in the past couple of years but we recognise there is much more to do in regaining confidence. A lot of effort has been made by the small number of activists to improve our campaigning, and we have a set of authentic progressive policies endorsed by local members who care about The Fens. Many of our candidates are experienced professional people with a wealth of knowledge and skills, all eager to serve. We are clearly standing for what we believe in rather than naked political ambition.
I joined the Labour Party 30 years ago but I first got involved in local politics when my family moved to Wisbech just 5 years ago. We saw a heritage town, a great marketplace, and met some wonderful people but could not understand – and I still do not – how people had allowed the town to fall behind so much, so little infrastructure and when we explored further genuine shock at some of the poverty and problems just out of sight. I had never stood for office before but was angry with what I saw – and frustration at the potential being lost. The town deserves better.
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