by cllreleanorrylance on 16 May, 2018
I apologise for the length of this- it’s been much on my my mind and I hope you find it enlightening about how things happen at district council at present.
When I was elected a year ago, I didn’t really understand how things worked at district council. I fondly imagined that councillors would be focused on issues affecting their residents, and keen to collaborate with others to bring about the best possible result for the largest possible number of people.
Before you accuse me of naivety, please understand that this is why I stood, and I believe that quite few other councillors as well. We’re certainly not “in it for the money”. I do about 20 hours a week on council business (and still not enough time to get out speaking to people) and my take-home allowance is £290.73 a month. Not complaining at all, just trying to set a record straight.
So, back to democracy.
As you may know there are three parties and some independents represented at East Devon Council. The largest is the Conservatives (henceforth Cons), followed by the East Devon Alliance (EDA) (who describe themselves as independents), then the Liberal Democrats (LD), then a few “independent independents” (Ind)
From time to time, a motion is submitted for debate at full council meeting. A motion is a way of changing council policy on something. It is written and proposed by one councillor, seconded by another, and formally supported by as many others as the first two can find. On the day of the meeting, the proposer and the seconder are allowed 5 mn each to explain why they think it would be a good idea to vote for their motion, and bring all the relevant evidence to the debate. The supporters get 3 mn to supply extra arguments. Then anybody else can add to the debate. Anybody else can also submit an amendment to the original text. This is meant to be to bring improvements.
I’ve been at District Council now for a year and I have never yet seen a motion submitted by EDA, LD or Inds, however sensible, well-intentioned or well-drafted, not be entirely deconstructed by the Cons, who ^always^ submit an amendment. They submit an amendment they’ve had a fortnight to prepare, and then force a vote in a few minutes on a motion text that the LDs, Inds and EDAs have not seen. Is this democracy?
Motion proposals are sent out two weeks in advance to all councillors. The Cons gather together in that fortnight and plan their “amendments” (rewrites) and then submit them to council for voting with only a few minutes to consider them. Sometimes they submit “amendments” that are three times larger than the original motion and are so convoluted that they require a printed version. In one farcical situation last week (of which more in a future article), the printouts were slapped down in front of a roomful of bemused councillors, some of who are visually impaired, some of whom are severely dyslexic and unable to absorb that much text in one go, and then a vote was forced through. “This is not democracy!” I stated to council. “Sit down!” thundered the Chairman, “this is more than democracy, it’s better than democracy!”. It seems that the Cons prefer autocracy at district council.
An amendment to my mind should not be something that changes the entire motion Into something else entirely. Then the Cons use their majority at council to railroad through their “amendment”, even if they personally disagree with the amendment and would rather vote for the original motion. The Cons then take credit for the motion. They are quite frankly no better than playground bullies pinching your homework, copying you in the test and then getting you into trouble for copying.
Take the motion on single-use plastics jointly submitted by EDA and LD in February. The intention was to stop district council from purchasing single use plastics such as cups and spoons for use within the building. Our reasoning was that we could hardly exercise proper leadership on reducing the use of plastics if our own house was not in order. We honestly couldn’t see how it could possibly be controversial. How foolish we were.
Because it seems that there is no motion, however small, however sensible, that will not be utterly eviscerated and re-written by the Cons.
This single use plastics motion was all but scuppered by the Cons, who replaced it with one kicking the date at which we would stop using such things into the long grass entirely. There was no sensible reason for doing this. They simply didn’t want to pass a thing not proposed by themselves. They use specious arguments to destroy the motion, citing the unavailability of non-plastic sample jars and those sticky covers for parking tickets.
In a scene of chaos that wouldn’t be out of place in an emerging country, the Cons rounded on the LDs and shouted that they were being completely sensible to kick the deadline for this motion into 2040, when in fact all it really required was a decision about which pack of cups to order from the cash and carry, and a proviso in the motion that it would apply as and when other alternatives became available.
Is this democracy? I think not. It’s the behaviour of a bunch of playground bullies more keen on maintaining what they see as their natural position in the order of things. They behave with thuggery and smuggery at council and on every committee they belong to. They are often not acting in the best interests of residents, but the best interests of their own party. They get away with it because nobody sees how they behave, and because they are re-elected.
The only way to counter this is by delivering them a good kicking at the ballot box, because you are sure as heck not getting adequate representation right now.Leave a comment