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Opinion: Time for flat-pack democracy

Gavin Ames

Gavin Ames

Opinion: Time for flat-pack democracy

If a cycle of local authority elections was a one-lap race, we would now be moving into the home straight. The runners would be jockeying for position, thinking about the end of the race. So it should be, too, for aspiring local councillors, as within a year they are all up for re-election.

My personal opinion is there should be no place for party politics at local level. It shouldn’t matter whether you vote Lib Dem or Conservative where potholes need filling or a local park needs redevelopment.

What should voting Labour mean when it comes to expanding a primary school?

Our local council is currently crying out, quite simply, for local people who care about local issues and want the right to unconditionally represent their local ward and local town without party ties.

These passionate folk need to be brought together at meetings so they can thrash out what should happen collectively, using meaningful debate as a vehicle to get there.

We don’t have that at the moment. The most important decisions are made behind closed doors by a complacent ruling party with an unhealthy majority. It isn’t their fault there are so many of them. They did very well in the last set of elections. It is a shame that even carrying such a huge bulk of councillors, there have still been secret meetings and whipped votes, the antithesis of what democracy should be about.

Credit should be given to councillors Stretton, Brimacombe, Hill and Majeed who became deeply frustrated and each made the difficult decision to flee the autocracy to become Independent councillors mid-term. They now offer councillors Jones, Hollingsworth, Da Costa, Werner and Beer some support against the other 47 compliant Conservatives and their leader.

So what next? Given how blue the voters of RBWM are, it is hard to see Labour making an impression. The Greens and the now effectively defunct UKIP have made little headway. That leaves the Lib Dems.

Or perhaps a new independent party could come from nowhere? They are going to have to start getting organised though, if that is going to happen. Building trust takes time.

There is a precedent. In Frome, Somerset, Independents for Frome (IfF) won all 17 seats the last time round, after developing a ‘flat pack democracy’ model, routing both the Lib Dems and the Conservatives in the process.

Why couldn’t a similar model work in RBWM? Both the RBWM Residents Action Group and the Cox Green Says No campaigners, to name just two, seem to be more interested in local issues than party politics.

What is for sure is that the next 12 months will be fascinating.

At times during the last few years Cllr Dudley and his obedient followers have done everything they can to try to lose this election. They have demoralised and ostracised many sections of the local population, on a variety of issues.

Accountability and transparency have not been priorities.

If they win with a landslide again, then the opposition may as well pack up and go home. They will never have a better chance than the 2019 local elections.

However, the sands of time are running out and as my dear mother likes to say: ‘they need to get their act together’.

And they will need to start formulating a plan sooner rather than later.

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