10:21AM, Monday 10 April 2017
As I write this in my bunker at ’Tiser Towers I can hear the distant thud of social media artillery as borough councillors take to Twitter to engage in that age-old political tactic of ‘shooting the messenger’.
Don’t like it that the paper is shining a light on things you’d rather be kept in the dark? A few uncomfortable truths making life difficult? Don’t address the criticism. Just discredit the article and question the integrity of those who’ve written it. That’s much easier.
Take our series raising concerns about the Borough Local Plan (BLP). The articles have been written in partnership with the group of volunteers who produced the Maidenhead and Cox Green Neighbourhood Plan (MNP). The articles represent their collective view so have not been attributed to any one individual.
If not addressed by the council, the problems the articles identify could have dire consequences for Maidenhead in the future. But the reason we’re running them in the first place is because the group fears the council will simply ignore the comments it submitted during the BLP consultation.
And the council’s reaction would seem to confirm this.
Councillors are demanding to know who the group are, accusing them of having an agenda and questioning their motives and integrity.
But you’d think Tory councillors would know neighbourhood plans were set up under the Conservatives’ Localism Act in 2012 to involve the public in planning and have been supported by, yep... the council. (In fact another councillor is even on the group. He was in my office a few years ago seeking help in publicising the process).
Perhaps our vocal critics missed the memo from then communities secretary Eric Pickles. Or perhaps localism is all very well until it starts making life difficult. Either way they should know who is on the group. And if they don’t, it’s quite easy to find them on its website.
It seems, too, it’s only a short hop from doublethink to double standards.
For while the Neighbourhood Plan Group is vilified for voicing concerns about the BLP, the Conservative candidate in the Clewer North by-election is using opposition to the plan as the central plank of his campaign.
The Tory hopeful is campaigning on a ticket of opposition to building more than 600 homes on the Squires Garden Centre site. But hang on, aren’t those 600 homes in... the BLP? Yes, that BLP, the one put forward by... the council.
And haven’t lots of councillors, right up to the leader himself, been out supporting him?
Bet that’s led to some interesting conversations on the doorstep: ‘So, you’re campaigning for the bloke who’s campaigning against the plan your council drew up?’.
Conveniently the period of ‘purdah’, where the council ceases any controversial business, means the meeting to approve the next draft of the BLP has been moved from April 23 to May 15 – after the Clewer North by-election on May 4.
Just as well. It would be inconvenient to have your main policy ruined before polling day.
Point any of this out, though, and it’s ‘shoot the messenger’.
Sometimes, though, the messenger does shoot back.
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