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Democracy Devalued by Cherwell District Council

Last night we saw the Cherwell Conservatives in their true colours as they waved through some fundamental changes to the council constitution despite the report they were based on being full of errors and inconsistencies.

The report itself had not been through the scrutiny and overview process, neither had any councillor, to my knowledge, been previously consulted or invited to comment on it.  It was simply dropped on to the December meeting agenda, possibly in the hope that it wouldn’t receive too much attention from councillors in the run up to Christmas.

This throws up a fundamental question on how the council is run.  Should significant issues of democratic accountability be amended by officers with virtually no input from elected councillors?  I’d argue not.  Councillors are bound by the constitution and the rules governing meetings.  They should at the very least be consulted appropriately on any changes that will affect these rules.

The proposals included restrictions on motions and amendments length, shorter notice periods for questions to council, and the ability to reject motions on the basis of heavily subjective assessments of them being ‘vexatious’ or ‘frivolous’.  They are arguably designed to limit both the scope of debates and, by implication, the ability of councillors to fully represent their ward residents.

Arguments were put forward that these rules already exist on some local councils, yet in Oxfordshire only one out of 5 district councils have similar rules (although with far greater latitude on things like motion length) and only the County Council has anything approaching this level of restriction.  It’s arguable that the County, with usually a far greater number of motions and procedural matters need a more streamlined system, but at district level this has never been an issue in Oxfordshire.

One has to ask what the motivations would be for the council agreeing to these proposals so readily.  It’s probable that after the recent change in the makeup of the council, with more non-conservative councillors being elected every year, the Tories are simply frightened of public debate.

This would appear to be predicated on the Conservatives bare-faced admission that they had already decided how they would vote on issues before any motion was proposed or debate initiated. Barry Wood’s repeated claim in meetings that all his councillors will essentially do as they are told completely undermines the basis of individual councillor representation.

Even though the report containing these proposals was significantly flawed, it was voted through by the Conservatives on the apparent understanding that it could be re-written or corrected later, without the need for further ratification.  That in itself would seem to be a ludicrous approach.  How can any such changes be approved in advance of knowing what they are?

As we have seen on numerous occasions, this is the reality of democracy in Cherwell, where the dominant follow-my-leader Tories vote en-bloc on everything, regardless of the interests of the people they represent.

This was evident during the debate at the same meeting over a second successive motion brought to the council calling on it to oppose the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.  This included claims from Councillor Dan Sames – the council’s lead on green issues – that he is “passionate” about the environment, whilst simultaneously keeping an ‘open mind’ about a huge motorway being built, possibly through environmentally sensitive areas like Otmoor, which he represents.  Councillors like this voted for a climate change emergency motion and then somehow reconcile that with building a huge motorway.  This shows just how little commitment they really have towards care for the environment.

Cherwell District Council is now the only council in Oxfordshire not to have voted to oppose the Expressway.  As a result they are tacitly supporting it subject only to the final route.  Any route will be environmentally damaging, but this doesn’t seem to be an issue for the ‘Concreting Conservatives’.

The fact that council leader, Barry Wood, is also the Chair of the Arc Leaders Group appointed by the MHCLG to promote the expressway plans, as well as being an OxLEP and Oxfordshire Growth Board member – both organisations with a vested interest in promoting the expressway – seems not to be regarded as significant bias by the council.  I’d surmise that that is the only reason why we’re still having this debate in Cherwell – the instruction from Cllr Wood to his poodle councillors appears to be that they should not undermine his position on all these bodies by opposing one of their keynote projects.

I do not have an open mind about the Expressway and will continue to oppose it at every opportunity in favour of much more sustainable and environmentally sensitive projects such as East/West Rail.  We do not need any more massive major road building projects in this part of the county (or arguably anywhere else) regardless of which route they may take.  The Green Party’s commitment to tackling climate change cannot be overruled by the imperatives of growth for its own sake that lie at the heart of Conservative proposals in Oxfordshire.

You can view a webcast of the entire meeting on the Cherwell District Council website here  http://modgov.cherwell.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=114&MId=3240&Ver=4

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Thanks Again

So ends my third and final candidacy for the Banbury constituency.

In a way I’ve come full circle in that my result this time was almost identical to my first one in 2015.  I was only 79 votes short of that figure this time with a final result of  2607 votes, giving me 4.1% of the vote share.

In 2015, I received 4.6% with only a slightly higher number of votes, but the turnout was lower then. Sadly this left me about 500 votes short of keeping my deposit this time, which means the Green Party loses £500, but we did our best.

Screenshot_2019-12-13 Banbury (UK Parliament constituency) - Wikipedia

On a personal level I’m fairly happy with that result.  It was more than double the last time I stood and represented a 2.2% increase in my vote share.  That’s the best increase of all the Green Party candidates in Oxfordshire, so that’s nice to have.  You have to look for the positives in these things!

Unfortunately though, positives on a national level are thin on the ground.  With a massive swing to the Tories representing such a shift in our national political landscape, I’m far more concerned about that than I am about my own result.  This is something I’m still processing at the moment as I’m sure many others are.  I have to say I’ve avoided news coverage of the election today as it is just too painful!  Maybe sleep deprivation has played a big part in that as well!

Where we go from here is difficult to say.  I think it’s fairly certain that Brexit will now happen, which I think we will mostly live to regret.  The debate around the referendum has become so polarised now that I’m not sure anyone really knows how we got here.  It’s become an argument about ‘honouring’ a vote that many people no longer really know the point of.  From most of the coverage I’ve seen it’s become about who ‘won’ and who ‘lost’.  It should never have been boiled down to such a simplistic argument.  Especially as I think most of us will eventually be the losers from Brexit.

The “Get Brexit done” slogan is also an absurd reduction of the true impact of one of the most seismic shifts in our fortunes since the second world war.  I still don’t think it’s something we should be treating so lightly.  With so much new information available to us now compared to 2016, we should have had an opportunity to think again.  Just ‘getting it over with’ really isn’t a logical motivation for carrying on with something that I think will be hugely damaging to this country and our economy.  Especially as the poor and the disadvantaged will end up feeling the most pain, which makes it doubly frustrating when so many news reports seem to suggest it’s those very people who voted Tory in this election.

Those of us on the remain side obviously haven’t made a strong enough case to those who seem so eager to jump into the abyss.  Boris Johnson’s lies will, I believe, show themselves to be exactly that when we finally push the button on Brexit.  Sadly it will be too late then to say I told you so to all those who think this will be a positive move.

The climate debate was for me equally as important as Brexit and bound up in the same argument.  This also applies to the other burning issues in the UK at the moment, including the NHS and public services.  I believe we will spend the next 10 years wasting parliamentary time dealing with the intricacies of extricating ourselves from the EU and negotiating disadvantageous deals with countries like the USA, when we should be dealing with the existential threat of climate change and the collapse of our health services.

The other issue exposed by the result is the desperate need for electoral reform.  Westminster has still been carved up by the two main parties who need so few votes to get a seat in the big house.  Whereas parties like the Greens with over 800,000 votes nationally only get on MP.  That really doesn’t make sense and certainly explains why so many people think that voting is a pointless exercise.  Moreover we need to have greater co-operation between parties to achieve electoral reform.  I hope that the one positive that might come out of Labour’s terrible results might be that they will finally be open to talking to other parties about co-operating towards that end.

But I will do what I can to help deal with the worst damage that Brexit and climate change will inevitably do to our society both locally and globally, even though I fear that, with at least another 5 years of majority Conservative government ahead of us, that’s going to be a very difficult task.

It’s not one that I will shirk from though, and I will use my position as a local councillor  to bring as much influence as I can to bear on what will no doubt be many more Tory excesses and attacks on the weakest in our society.  With a Tory dominated District council in Cherwell it’s always an uphill struggle to ‘move the dial’ but that’s not a reason to give up and I won’t be doing that.

Finally, an enormous thank you everyone who helped in my campaign and to everyone who contacted my directly, and through social media, to give me encouragement and support, and of course thank you for giving me your precious vote.  I can assure you that I value it enormously and it was not wasted.

For reasons I’ve explained in another post, no vote you believe in is ever wasted, and in terms of the Green Party it will help us carry on campaigning and, most importantly now, hold the national and local government to account on the environment and climate change.

The fight continues!

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Farming, The EU, The Expressway and Why You Should Vote Green [Video]

Spent the early morning yesterday in Otmoor being interviewed by the BBC about our policies on farming, food standards and stewardship of the land.  Lots to say on this, but as always happens with these things, a 10-minute interview gets condensed into a 10-second comment!

On the way back we passed several signs on field gates warning about how the area is under threat from the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.  As someone who’s been involved in the campaign to stop this ridiculous and unnecessary development I thought I’d add a few more comments by way of a video and also expand a bit on what the Green Party would do to protect our vital green spaces.

This is something I’ve been involved with for a number of years now, right across the county, trying to combat the epidemic of projects that want to destroy these areas in the name of profit and greed.

Yes we need housing, but it has to be the right housing in the right places.  Building on green belt will never be viable in terms of affordable housing as the land is so expensive.  Developers build in a set level of profitability, usually a staggering 20%!  That means that removing protection from green spaces like these just increases the number of high value, unaffordable houses being built.

Not only that, concreting over green spaces means they can no longer lock up the carbon that we need to reduce in our environment, and they also increase the likelihood of flooding as they can no longer absorb the increased level of rain we’re getting as the climate patterns shift.

The Conservatives back all these projects because they are there to help wealthy landowners, developers and investors make a fat profit out of our rural heritage.  As your MP I would resist all these projects, just as I now resist them as a District and Parish Councillor.

Greens CAN WIN

As we’ve just seen in Wallingford, where another Green councillor has just been elected to the county council, Greens CAN WIN and we WILL WIN if people get out and give us their vote.  Even if I don’t win in Banbury, a significant increase in the Green vote there will send a strong message to government that we demand change.  An increased Green vote will be a visible signal of that, whereas another ‘heroic defeat’ for the other parties will get lost in the usual fog of post-election reporting.

Now more than ever we need a strong Green voice, for the environment, for our future and for our children’s future.  Please vote Green on December 12th.