Reflections of a tragedy and district council notes from peninsula councillor

By Guest

23rd Oct 2021 | Opinion

A week after the murder of Sir David Amess I find myself reflecting on the meaning of this horrific incident. I think anybody in every form of public life has been doing the same.

In the last 10 years, and more heavily in the last six, I've seen tempers escalate to produce increasing violence in both language, threat and regrettably action.

At the May elections, candidates found themselves being warned to take precautions whilst simply doing their jobs. There are alert apps for Councillor and officer phones.

Candidates and MP's and even lowly councillors have received insults and abuse in the streets. It's even worse for women candidates, but not exclusive to them.

Good people who would take an interest in trying to be active as politicians question why they should want to expose themselves to this. When elected it gets worse, as you deal with the difficult realities.

It's sometimes suggested that the insulting language sometimes used by (bad) politicians is raising the temperature, that it is copied in society, and that social media is unregulated and we can place all the blame there.

Sir David, by all accounts was not one of those who sought to fuel the fires, not a Rambo with words. He made his points with respect and argument, by taking action where he could, by promoting the issues he cared about and by loving his Southend community. He was widely liked, holding friendships with people he disagreed with politically. That's more common than people realise.

The world of 2021 sees more people than ever actively involved in commentary on everything under the sun. Opinions, often instant, are easier than ever to give. They will find a reinforcing constituency wherever one exists. That dissatisfaction exists cannot be denied and it should be addressed.

The thing is, based on human observation throughout my life, is that anybody actively trying to do something will be targeted as part of the cause. You can even run a small group in a small village and somebody will express their judgement.

In short, some people do things. In every community I've ever lived in, Brantham being the longest, the do-ers do it because they think somebody should and they can.

The judgements are usually expressed by people who don't do things, haven't tried and don't really want to. Criticism is easier. That's human nature. When any criticism is made the choice of words and the level of anger expressed changes the nature of it. We can blame social media, but we need to realise that individually we are responsible for what content we supply.

People don't want to be hurt, so we lose good people who could help us all. People are getting hurt. A murder being the ultimate expression.

A report or two back, I wrote about the pleasure of having a Babergh administration for the last two and a half years that operated across parties in consensus. That was obviously tempting fate as an ongoing split in the Conservative group, essentially over some Sudbury and Hadleigh issues, has seen a return to adversarial politics.

The 2015-19 Conservative administration was what produced the worst effects we now see in Brantham. In opposition then, and massively outweighed by a huge majority, there was little we could do. Now, in an already balanced council, Conservative and Labour members continue to join the Independent group.

They want to speak as they find, not as they are told. We have tried to redress what we can and plan for the future in Babergh. We continue to do so. I'm proud of those efforts, working in consensus with other groups and hard-working members.

When we become enemies, as opposed to colleagues, we feed exactly the same sort of intolerance that leads to the threatening behaviour I've described. Lest you think I exaggerate, this has actually happened in Babergh, even involving criminal prosecution and conviction.

The words we use matter, where we say them matters. So we need to think before we write, send or post. I think very hard before I write this stuff. That's what I'm doing when you see me pacing up and down.

POLITICS?...REALLY?

It's not a game I want to play, but inevitably it takes place. The Cabinet reshuffle and the Party Conference season provide some useful indicators of where local government might go in the future. It's Westminster that makes the laws that govern all our activities.

The Local Government Act is the basis of almost our entire existence. We must have, by law, a Monitoring Officer to make sure we follow it. We have a Chief Financial Officer (Section 151 Officer, if you ever want to show off) to make sure that we adhere to safe accounting practice using public money. The National Planning Policy framework (NPPF), effectively enforced by the Planning Inspectorate, must be used as the basis to determine nearly all planning matters.

Our own policies are required to fit that framework, as are any Neighbourhood Plans. In short, paying attention to any proposed or possible changes in national party thinking is worth doing.

The recent reshuffle has brought Michael Gove to our relevant department. After a series of Secretaries of State, none of whom made much of a mark, we are to have a 'big gun'. One interesting point is the new title.

We've moved from the Dept for Communities and Local Government to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and now arrive at a rebranded Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. (DLUHC). The observant will note that any mention of local government is gone, and Housing remains a focal point.

Nobody is quite sure what levelling up will mean in practice, but Councils were invited to bid for a government levelling up fund months ago. They duly did so. As I write in October, not a single penny of £800M has been allocated. The first deadline for any spend of this is the end of March 2022. Unimpressive.

Party conferences, of course, contain a lot of crowd-pleasing sound bites and wilder ideas floated to rally the troops. These usually involve a memorable three word or three phrase cheerleader pieces. What's more worrying is what is not discussed. I appreciate, even as a non-party player, that there's a bit of jockeying for position.

Parties are preparing for not only a future General Election (not soon) but also the 2023 local elections. It may not be too obvious yet, but it will be in 2022. The Councils are still waiting for next years Financial Settlement to be announced. Despite popular belief, Council Tax is not the largest source of council income. Budget work for 2022-23 is well underway, but we don't know anything about this yet.

There was supposed to be a longer-term settlement, but Covid caused a delay. Now we'd settle for getting the information before the last minute, as usual. If this seems obscure and not your problem, it is. This is essential for the Budget to be adopted early in 2022. That budget sets your services, the bins, environmental health, public realm, council housing, repairs and all the stuff that goes on that you'd soon notice if it were gone.

It might surprise many that my independent view of the treatment we get from Westminster is echoed (quietly in some cases) amongst my party minded colleagues. We really are all in the same boat here.

Wild ideas and ideology will only carry us so far. I prefer a more practical approach. 'Make it WORK, Make it FAIR, Make it SOON.'

CABINET AND ALL THAT

I'm getting to grips with my portfolio for Customers and Digital Transformation & Improvement. I thought I was busy before on Scrutiny, but the workload also involves other tasks that need a Cabinet member. I'm on a lot of those groups too now. Buses, Cycling and Walking Infrastructure, Flood Management, a Democracy project, and more.

I know a lot of people see their local councillor as somebody who is there to work just for their ward and community. But they're also the person sent by that ward to do the work of the Council for the benefit of the entire district. That means getting involved, really involved, not to the exclusion of the ward but so that it too will gain.

CONTACT POINTS

Gov.uk. / Babergh.gov.uk. / 0300 123 4000 / Suffolk.gov.uk/ tendringdc.gov.uk

If you need to tell me anything important, please just phone or email me. I can guarantee a response there.

The now electrified bike, the same Claud Butler, has got through initial trials and serves me well now. I'll see you around.

Alastair McCraw. 07812 564188 or 07548 154296 [email protected]

Facebook: Alastair McCraw, Independent Councillor

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