Will Democracy Win the Day?
When the Leader of the Northampton Borough Council said publicly on the 10th September at a full council meeting in response to a call from the Northampton Labour group for a full consultation on the Conservatives Parish Council proposals “We will not be wasting money on consultation” he quite clearly as he and his colleagues have on a number of occasions in the past 12 months misjudged the situation.
What the Conservatives failed to understand, because they once again refused to listen, is that what Northampton Labour was calling for was a simple delivery of the consultation and explanation of the impact of having a Parish Council delivered to every household with a pre-paid envelope for them to be returned.
In fact a simply a full and open consultation, which they refused using the excuse that it would be too costly even though we offered to deliver them and suggested that perhaps Conservative Councillors could also deliver them.
After all aren’t councillors and candidates happy to push leaflets through your letter box when they want your vote?
Yes it would have cost more, but in fact the whole policy which has now turned into a farce because of the lack of consultation has cost the taxpayers of Northampton the best part of £200,000 which many will now argue was a complete waste of money and only serves to stereotype the council as one where they fail to do things properly but it’s the taxpayers’ who pick up the tab.
It was clear that there was going to be problems with the whole issue when the Borough Conservatives found that they had to increase the deadline for collecting names of residents to meet the threshold in some areas for the Parish Council Policy to progress with the unedifying sight of Conservative Councillors running around the areas they were sponsoring trying to collect signatures.
It is because of the refusal to consult that Northampton Labour led a campaign in Sunnyside & Obelisk, Rectory Farm, Parklands and St James against the proposals.
Let me make it clear that Northampton Labour have always insisted that whatever the result of the ‘advisory poll’ it should be binding on the Borough Council whether Yes or No, and that it is not for the Councillors to decide on an issue that would be the biggest local taxation change to the lives of many residents.
What was surprising was the reaction we received, the majority being grateful and expressing thanks for having it explained to them in some cases even that a poll was going to be held and the lack of information put out by the Conservatives who were after all sponsoring the new parishes.
There was of course as you would expect in the democratic process some members of the public, in reality only three who contacted me, arguing that it wasn’t right for Labour to be saying Vote No.
What was more than interesting were the reasons they gave,
“Our Councillor is a Conservative what right have Labour to come into this area and interfere”? (the reaction was different when I explained that if the vote was Yes we would support it 100%, and asked what consultation had taken place and had they heard from their Conservative councillor on the issue)
“We run our local Community Centre and if we don’t have a Parish Council we have been told it will have to close”, (the answer is it would only have to close if the Conservatives decided not to support it and anyway why should you pay extra for something you already have?)
“We have been told that we wouldn’t have to pay extra for a Parish Council” (so who would pay for the parish clerk, elections, hiring of facilities to hold meetings, the extra responsibilities etc.?)
The three difficult conversations I had all ended the same way, to agree to disagree but acknowledging that people have a right to be consulted and express their views and opinions.
The results of the polls are now known, with a very poor electoral turn outs in all of the areas that had been proposed as new Parish Councils and all with the same result, more of those who voted voting NO.
Having staked his political reputation and that of the Northampton Conservatives on trying to dupe people and have them sleepwalk into having a Parish Council he is left with one of two options available to him,
The first is to accept that the majority of those who voted have said NO and drop the proposals, which after all having been a part of the campaign to retain ‘first past the post’ elections would be the logical steps to take, or take the second option and claim that the Conservatives can ignore the results because they were merely ‘advisory polls’ and press ahead and force the implementation of Parish Councils in the areas the Conservatives sponsored.
Where the problem arises is that the Conservatives clean have a record of ignoring the people of Northampton, from the new bus station to the Sekhemka statue, from cuts to PCSO’s to supporting their County Conservative colleagues in switching off the streetlights and increasing their allowances by 27% and from failing to manage the waste and environment contract to keeping the town centre clean.
So why would they change now over the Parish Council issue?
A decision will be taken at a Northampton Borough Council meeting on the 3rd December.
We can only hope and will be fighting for the decision taken by the people of Northampton through the ballot box to be upheld and that for the first time the Conservatives will join Labour and Listen to Northampton.