Source: Potteye Blog
How deeply disappointing the announcement by the Boundary Committee is for an opportunity to strengthen democracy in Stoke-on-Trent.
The whole review seems very focused on how the council works and is run. Surely the first priority when reassessing any part of the electoral processes or structure should be improving the relevance of the representation and reconnecting with the electorate.
Has the Boundary Commission and the Government missed the point?
In Stoke-on-Trent, how many councillors are women, young working family men or women? The answer is the same not just in Stoke-on-Trent but is reflected right across the country.
I strongly believe reducing the numbers of councillors will only make the situation worse without a fundamental change in the law that supports and protects ordinary people who, from all walks of life, who want to make a commitment and contribute to society by becoming an elected representative of the people and their communities.
Only seven years ago the Boundary Committee assessed the Potteries as needing 60 councillors. What’s changed?
Over the lifetime of this government, legislation has deluged local councils, with constant changes to structures, without addressing the fundamental issues of who, how and why people chose to try and become councillors and why citizen do not.
If anything is to blame for the state of Stoke it is this tirade of changes destabilising the foundation or our democracy.
But should this be any surprise?
For many Civil Servants, officers, the establishment, big business, democracy is nothing more than an obstacle; a speed bump in the road that slows them down, but they still drive over non the less.
I am convinced that the aim is to remove that obstacle/ reduce the height of that democratic speed bump.
Take the language that is used when pushing forward the changes they have made:
“Elected Mayors”, “Strong Leadership to make the difficult decisions”, “value for money”.
What they really mean is “ordinary people can’t be trusted to do what we want”, “democracy costs too much”, “the less of these ordinary, ignorant people we have to deal with the better”.
One of the arguments made against D4S’s campaign to get rid of the Elected Mayor within the Labour Party and more widely by political “experts” like Mike Temple (I have always had my suspicion about academics who tell other people how to do things without actually doing it themselves), was that “people don’t care about the structures of a council ““ all they care about is street cleaning, empty bins etc”¦”
Murderous dictators can keep street clean and get the bins emptied.
For me democracy should be about consensus, about debate and facts. It should be about moving forward and making decisions together, not rammed through by an individual or a small out of touch elite.
It seems that the key player in all of this has been Professor Michael Clarke. Chosen by the government to lead the Governance Commission in Stoke, and then the Transition Board, and he has spent many years working for the Boundaries Commission doing boundary reviews.
But where does he come from? What world does he live in? How much, for example, does he understand about the needs of a single mum in Abbey Hulton, or the concerns and needs of an unemployed 22 year old in Meir?
Reducing the number of councillors will only increase the workload on each councillor, further excluding many people from participating and making it harder to engage with the council and the councillors, with the potential to erode the trust(is there any?) needed by citizens in there government at all levels.