03:28PM, Monday 19 June 2017
Cllr Charles Hollingsworth
A week, it is said, is a long time in politics.
And while the turbulent events of the general election have pitched Maidenhead into the eye of a national storm thanks to our MP being the Prime Minister, there are equally seismic events going on at the level of local politics.
Since starting this column I’ve variously compared the behaviour of the ruling Conservative group at the town hall to an Orwellian dystopia and a Carry On film.
But this week we have a new metaphor – a Shakespearean tragedy.
‘There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark’, wrote Cllr Charles Hollingsworth, quoting from Hamlet in an email to the Advertiser announcing he was so sick of the way the administration is run that he was quitting the Conservative party to become an Independent.
Cllr Hollingsworth is one of those public-spirited individuals who went into local politics to serve his neighbours and make things better.
Active in his community, he is a man of absolute integrity. During the council whitewash over the allocation of £480,000 to Holyport College a couple of years ago, Cllr Hollingsworth was the only member of the then 54-strong ruling group to break ranks and criticise the decision.
Now he says ‘enough is enough’ and he can no longer be associated with the dictatorial culture at the town hall and a leadership that will tolerate no voices raised in opposition – readers will recall the recent ‘removals’ of long-serving councillors Leo Walters and Geoff Hill who fell foul of said leadership.
Some of Cllr Hollingsworth’s harshest criticism is reserved for the council’s handling of the Borough Local Plan (BLP), which he describes as an ‘absolute shambles’.
The next stage of the plan, due to go before the council tonight (Monday), effectively ignores the results of what little public consultation there has been.
Yet this vital document will shape development in the borough until 2032 and has huge implications for the quality of life of us all.
Opposition to it is growing. Last week saw a coalition of community groups – the very opposite of a coalition of chaos – deliver an open letter to the council calling for the plan to be put on hold to allow proper consultation to take place.
It echoes a similar letter from 14 parish councils and neighbourhood plan groups a fortnight ago also calling for more consultation.
Last week also saw the emergence of an RBWM Residents Action Group, set up to campaign against the current draft of the BLP. A petition it is running has already attracted 1,600 signatures.
It speaks volumes that the group’s Twitter account was almost immediately blocked by the leader of the council. There’s nothing like engaging with the public... (seriously, you can’t make this stuff up).
Just like Cllr Hollingsworth, all these are people motivated by serving the communities in which they live. They are not, by nature, radical or rebellious. Yet the council’s willful refusal to listen has sparked a revolt.
Quite an achievement to get Middle England up in arms against you, RBWM.
But while dictatorships may outwardly seem strong they are inherently brittle.
And cracks are starting to appear. This summer of discontent is widening those cracks into fractures that shine a light onto what’s rotten in the state of RBWM.
We all know that saying about what triumphs when good men do nothing.
So, let’s just see what happens now, when good men and women refuse to be silent any longer.
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