An assault on local democracy

According to the report for this week’s Swindon Council Cabinet meeting “a high proportion of responses received expressed opposition to the parishing of non-parished areas”. In contrast there were “a number of submissions” supporting it? What number? We are not told. It’s typical of this administration that they neglect to report the results of the consultation in any detail. How many were in favour, how many against? The weight of opinion against them is somewhat inconvenient when they want to push ahead regardless of the results of the consultation.

Yet they have no democratic mandate for their proposal. At the recent election, over the whole town, the Conservative Party gained less votes than the opposition. Mr Renard may contest that the parishing issue was a factor in the loss of two seats, but the electorate was clearly not enthused by their concept of “empowering” local people by imposing parishes on them regardless of their opinion.

Their proposal is nothing less than an assault on local democracy. It represents a major change in the organisation of local government in the town, one which should not be taken, without a democratic mandate at least from those electors directly affected who will literally be paying the price.

Not only is the administration proposing to ignore the weight of opinion expressed in the consultation, it is proposing to force existing councillors to vote through a precept, an act for which their electors have certainly not given them a mandate. Even worse, the Cabinet document says that when a shadow parish council is set up in each area

“This will be made up of ward members for each area together with any community representatives that the Council may feel appropriate to appoint.”

This would appear to give one political party the power to appoint whosoever they choose in order to impose a parish which the electors haven’t endorsed and to utilise unelected members, chosen by the administration, to impose a precept on the local electorate which will be barred from having any say on the matter.

Potentially this would give the Tories the power to appoint people who are in favour of their proposals regardless of whether or not they reflect local opinion. This is an outrageous and anti-democratic proposal.

The attitude of the ruling group essentially appears to be that whilst they have a majority on the council, they will push through whatever they choose regardless of the opinion of the electorate. Of course, so long as they can rely on party loyalty to pressure their Councillors to support their proposal then they will push it through. Certainly we know some of them are uneasy about these proposals. Even Robert Buckland has told me that he is ‘not convinced’ of the case for parishing.  We will see whether any of them have the courage and the independence to oppose this attack on local democracy. They can either choose ‘party loyalty’ and this attack on democracy or support giving the electorate a democratic choice.

The behaviour of the clique which runs this Council is increasingly arrogant and high-handed. They are showing utter contempt for the electorate. Opponents of this attempt to foist parish councils on us, sceptical though they may be, need to try to engage in dialogue with Tory councillors, to press them to support the demand that the electors should decide. We cannot sit back and just accept that this is inevitable and watch it happen without protest. They must be told by as many people as possible that their anti-democratic methods are unacceptable.

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