Brantham district councillor Alastair McCraw monthly report
23rd Apr 2022 | Opinion
REPORT TO PARISH, BRANTHAM WARD
Babergh District Councillor Alastair McCraw
I've always found being a Councillor to be a rather peculiar job. Massive preparation but always surprises. We've all got a lot more important things to worry about these days, but you're entitled to wonder what on earth is going on with the Babergh Cabinet when the five non-Conservatives, myself included, have all left it? Will it affect anything? Should you have any concerns? And who threw their toys out of the pram?
For the first, not as much as you'd think. In the final year of a four-year Council, most of the groundwork, the important matters have been dealt with already. The joint multi-party administration has worked well for the key years. It got us through the worst of the pandemic (I hope) and sustained and improved many services. The fourth year before an election (2023) is often the time when things are tidied up and programmes can be completed or continue to progress. I'd hesitate to use the words 'Lame Duck' but there's some truth to them.
As to concerns, all of us remain councillors. All have a long tradition of being active and involved members and that won't change. Being a Cabinet member is an appointment by the leader. The Council also makes appointments. I would imagine we'll continue to fill our roles on committees and outside bodies and in the internal invisible work that carries on all the time. Obviously, we'll continue to serve our own Wards as well as look out for the district at large. That's what we were elected to do and there are lots of ways to do it. The Council has thirty-two members, the Conservatives 14. Rule one in politics: Learn to count.
Now to the multi-seater pram. Each of the Cabinet positions or portfolios has a specific area of responsibility, working closely with officers to prepare policy and proposals either for Cabinet or Council. Cabinet papers can be challenged though, either in pre or post Scrutiny or by a Call-in method for examination. It's not a blank cheque. As Chairman of Overview and Scrutiny for three years covering both administrations, I can testify to that. In that role, and since as a Cabinet member, I've probably attended more Cabinet meetings than most.
The 50-50 joint administration was agreed by the Conservatives, Independents and Liberal Democrats after the 2019 election, there being no overall majority. For two and a half years this was a useful, functioning, and civilised Cabinet. It didn't always agree in debate, but it accepted collective responsibility for its decisions like grown-ups should.
At this late point, Party politics reared its ugly head. The leader appointed two new Conservative Cabinet members, Simon Barrett and Sian Dawson, and sacked another, without our (IND/LD) agreement. The sacked one, Liz Malvisi, had been doing an excellent job in the huge Environment job and had been a lifelong Tory. We discussed this with Liz, and she decided to become an Independent. To keep the political balance on Cabinet, Liz was given the Climate Change/Bio-diversity portfolio. It was an attempt to maintain a working and sensible administration, despite reservations, for the good of the District.
At the beginning of April, the two new Cabinet members had objected to some press coverage about them. It mocked them. It was made by a regular opinion piece writer on a News website edited by Derek Davis, also the Cabinet member for Communities. Derek is a working journalist doing his job and entitled to do so. He was repeatedly asked by the Conservatives to stop publication and reveal the name of the writer. The leader, John Ward, was instructed by his party to dismiss him from the Cabinet as his job was 'incompatible with Cabinet membership'. It's bloody odd that a minority on the Council (and the non-elected party members) think they can do this to a leader appointed by the entire Council. Do they understand what the word leader means? For that matter, what freedom of the press means? Obviously, Derek refused and was duly sacked on the Tuesday. Derek had been the first Independent appointed to his two Cabinets by John, who admitted he had done an excellent job in two portfolios.
On Wednesday 6th, the Deputy Leader, Clive Arthey, Liz Malvisi, and myself resigned in some disgust at the blatant pandering to the Conservative party when there was serious work being done. Also, that's just wrong! Our entire group of ten had agreed to this. We're Independents, so rarely unanimous. Dave Busby, the Liberal Democrat resigned the following day. I have personal concerns as to how the rump of the Cabinet can cope with the work, their backing being by some members we see little of, and hear less, in meetings.
I think I have friends across the chamber in all groups. Some are privately appalled at this situation. We are all colleagues, at best working for a common purpose whether we agree on everything or not. I know who I respect for their work, who I do not, and I know why. I've found that private behaviour is often, if not always, an indicator of political behaviour. Personally, I expect to be mocked sometimes. There's so much material after all. I sometimes invite it, but we shouldn't take ourselves too seriously. We should take the issues and our standards very seriously indeed. I'm still 'There' to do that.
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. I'd also like to know if there's anything you'd like me to cover here, or ask directly. The Claud Butler is broken, but I have a reserve. I'll be around the village for a while yet. I'll always be happy to speak to you.
Alastair McCraw. 07812 564188 or 07548 154296 [email protected]
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