Debate? What Debate?
I have been reflecting today on the quality of debate surrounding local government policies.
At Hampshire County Council, there is a sizeable opposition group who are pretty good at putting forward arguments.
The ruling Tory group always win the vote that follows, due to having greater numbers and a fixed position that is pre-agreed in a group meeting, but at least there is a debate and anyone interested in democracy can watch these take place either live or afterwards by visiting the HCC website.
I have to say that, these days, there is nothing approaching debate at New Forest District Council.
This is mainly due to a staggering shortage of opposition members.
Despite my best efforts, I cannot ever get the ruling group to engage with me in any meaningful way on the topics I raise.
Unfortunately, the culture that has arisen in recent years is that meetings, including that of the Cabinet and Council are seen by the ruling group as mere “rubber stamping exercises”.
To challenge anything, even in a reasoned fashion, is treated as a hostile affront.
A particularly unpleasant development is that any challenge made against policy is responded to by very personal attacks.
“I am being negative, I have’t done my research, I’m looking backwards, I should be getting behind the Council, not criticising it, I am being political, I am only seeking a press headline….”.
The decisions I am challenging are made by an elite group of Tory Cabinet members.
It is often painfully obvious that other Tory Councillors agree with the points I make but are too fearful to say so.
It’s all a bit like “The Emperor has no clothes”.
On the rare occasion that any Tory breaks ranks and expresses agreement with me they are later slapped down and even punished.
The most disappointing aspect is that there is no debate, as such.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a hint of democratic debate?
We could explore ideas and alternatives.
We could be realistic about performance instead of pretending that everything the Council does is terrific.
Cabinet & Council meetings on the District Council involve almost no time at all discussing things that have been pre-decided.
The meetings are over in minutes.
I cannot really understand why a number of Tory Councillors even turn up when they make no contribution other than the odd one who makes the most sycophantic remarks.
The public don’t know all this because the meetings at the District are not filmed or live streamed. I am always a bit relieved that there is usually at least one reporter present to record things.
If they didn’t turn up, or I didn’t make a contribution (however unwelcome it is received), then it would all be an utterly pointless exercise.