By Nicky Davis
The government intervention in our election system was discussed at the full council meeting today (21st May 09).Ã‚ In this blog I will start by recording the key points made during the council debate as accurately and impartially as I can.Ã‚ Following that I will separately take a bloggers prerogative and tell you my views on what was said.
My own ward councillor Terry Follows (I don’t count the other two as representative) decided not to contribute to the debate as he felt that the views were better sent to the minister by the group leaders rather than aired in the public domain.
Doesn’t like intervention but does like what it is aiming to achieve politically.
Agrees with many of the governance commission’s recommendations.Ã‚ He thinks that councils around the country are not representative of people but all the talk about involving local people is guff.Ã‚ The council had voted and decided against whole council elections.Ã‚ Whilst he personally prefers whole council elections he believes what council has decided according to the rules should stand.Ã‚ He does not like morally corrupt individuals in government dictating to us.Ã‚ He doesn’t want decisions to be officer led and he believes decision making should be at the lowest possible level.
Thinks there should be more openness and transparency.Ã‚ He wants more meaningful dialogue with government and much more communication between ministers and local councils, rather than nods and winks between officers.Ã‚ He prefers the system of whole council elections but had previously voted against because of the cancellation of the 2010 elections that had been included in the vote.Ã‚ He was keen for the council to send the message back to government to allow the 2010 elections to go ahead.Ã‚ He also dislikes that the minister wishes to widen the remit of the transition board into a monitoring body.Ã‚ Officers, overview and scrutiny and local auditors are already monitoring, so why widen and dilute the transition board?Ã‚ Originally it was there to tackle the level of perceived disenchantment and disengagement with the political process.
Thinks there is much guess work in the minister’s report, it is not really a science and we do not know if it will create more stable political leadership.Ã‚ He is worried about the proposed expansion of officer support and worries this may mean more consultants and councillors won’t know what they do.Ã‚ Wallsall and Hull had government intervention because of poor service.Ã‚ But in our case it is for political reasons.Ã‚ He described the fragmented political system as a result of the failure of the mainstream parties to connect with people at grass roots level and said we can’t expect government to come in and solve this.Ã‚ He was glad government had agreed Stoke-on-Trent should have more money as we have been under funded for years.Ã‚ He thinks if the transition board must be here at all, they ought to be a critical friend, not here to dictate to us.Ã‚ He thought it unfortunate we can not legally challenge them.Ã‚ The City Independent Group had made their views clear by writing to and emailing Hazel Blears and John Healey and had not had a reply, which is a sad state of affairs.Ã‚ He can not see why Stoke-on-Trent is singled out for intervention; government should not be a dictator who wants to change our political system.
Can see why government is intervening, this gives us an opportunity for discussions with the electoral commission and he wants to work together in unity.
Disagrees with Brian Ward, claims that the 27/27 vote on whole council elections is not a decision and blames the CIG and BNP for this.Ã‚ He considers the reason for the intervention is political instability; he wants to accept the intervention and get them off our backs in some months or years.
Suggested an amendment to add an expression of concern about increased monitoring by the transition board and request that the minister considers allowing the 2010 elections to take place.
Described Peter Kent-Baguley’s point as superfluous and claimed it was normal practice to drop the 2010 election.
Likened the government to a gorilla, said he preferred not to poke it with a stick instead of smiling and throwing bananas at it.
Regards the 2010 elections as petty and wants to accept the government minister’s view.
Has sympathy with Peter Kent-Baguley but does not agree with everything in the amendment and said concerns will be sent to the minister.
Thinks politics in general is damaged, especially by the current government.Ã‚ He regards the 2010 election to be essential.Ã‚ He would like to say to the government from the BNP group that before trampling over democracy in our city they should get their own house in order.
Said a decision against whole council elections had been taken in the council chamber but Mark Meredith had not liked it so had asked the minister to intervene, causing a democratic decision to be overturned.Ã‚ He regards the mayor as having used underhand means to undermine the democracy of council.
Was of the opinion that the council did not make a decision because the vote was 27/27.Ã‚ He thinks the council is not mature enough and the 2010 election is petty.Ã‚ He wants to discuss how many councillors there should be.Ã‚ He wants the recorded views of all groups to go forward to the minister.
Doesn’t mind whether the next election is 2010 or 2011 and said the boundary commission will be in.
Thinks elections won’t happen next year and wants to stop talking politics.
Said residents associations and people who have stopped her in the street don’t want whole council elections and is concerned that the government is not listening to the people of Stoke-on-Trent.Ã‚ She pointed out the minister says interested parties should make representations.Ã‚ She asked how residents will be consulted on this intervention.
Peter Kent-Baguley’s amendment was narrowly defeated, 24 votes against, 21 for, with one abstention.Ã‚ I can’t be sure of every councillor but from the show of hands it seemed to be most labour, tory, libdem and some CIG against and most PIA, NAG, BNP and CIG for.
The main motion was carried by a large majority that Derek Capey didn’t bother to quote, with in the main BNP against.
A plea to councillors here; for the benefit of the public observing, as well as to fellow councillors I believe, when you are having a vote on a motion, could you please clearly read out the motion before the vote.Ã‚ That is what would happen in most other organisations and meetings.Ã‚ I’ve looked at the online reports pack and I’m still not all that clear what exactly the motion was, was it just to follow the minister’s intervention instructions?
So what appears to be going to happen next is John Healey will receive representations – so get writing to him you ordinary people who have not already done so – and make a final decision on what to do after June 18th.
Now I’m going to get to say what I think.Ã‚ In brief, my preference is to retain the system of thirds with three councillors per ward because it allows people to exercise their democratic right more frequently and allows prompt voting for young people reaching voting age, thereby encouraging political engagement.Ã‚ Three councillors per ward means that there is more chance of having a good representative one.Ã‚ I do not want to see too much of a decrease in the number of councillors, 20-40 is recommended.Ã‚ Whilst I’d prefer to retain 60, reducing to 40 may be just about ok but 20 is far too few.Ã‚ Regardless of what I think on elections, I would not have protested the introduction of whole council elections if it had been decided by the council according to proper process.Ã‚ I think they should have published all the views we sent in on this.Ã‚ However I am outraged by government undemocratically imposing whole council elections on us and removing our democratic right to vote in 2010!
In terms of what the councillors said, I was most disappointed that not a single councillor pointed out the hypocracy of government insisting that the governance commission’s report is followed, whilst removing the 2010 election that the report states we should have.
I strongly disagree with Kieran Clarke, Ross Irving, Mohammed Pervez, Joy Garner and Roy Naylor, far too compliant and unwilling to stand up for local people.Ã‚ I disagree with most of what Roger Ibbs said except I agree I would have liked to see discussion of the number of councillors and single member versus three member wards.Ã‚ I disagree with Paul Shotton but at least his contribution was good for a giggle.Ã‚ I disagree with Mike Barnes who was doing the usual, trying to sound sympathetic with the other view but I don’t agree with his view.Ã‚ I was disappointed Terry Follows did not contribute to the debate given that others did, though of course there were others who did not contribute also.Ã‚ Whilst I don’t have the same preference for election system as Gavin Webb and Peter Kent-Baguley, the rest of their contributions I very much agree with, points well made.Ã‚ I wholeheartedly agree with Brian Ward, Alby Walker, John Davis and Ann James.Ã‚ Government can hardly engage people in politics by behaving dictatorially and undemocratically removing our elections.Ã‚ If it does engage us it certainly won’t be in the direction of labour, well not for me anyway.
Just to end on a completely different subject, as a result of a petition there was considerable discussion of the Westcliffe Hospital building and desire from the petition and amongst many councillors to try to retain at least the front facade of the building for its architectural merit when the site is redeveloped.Ã‚ However there were implications about decisions already made and plans in motion, unfairly it sounded as a previous petition to preserve the building seemed to have been ignored.Ã‚ Now I do not know this building at all, but to use a ministerial term which seems to be in vogue at present, I am ‘minded’ to pop up to Chell and have a look at what sounds like a beautiful piece of heritage, before the bulldozers move in and create one more pile of rubble amongst the many across the city.