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A BLACK DAY FOR DEMOCRACY - PART 2

13-07-2009

Lynn Hawthorne regrets the passing of an old acquaintance during Friday's meeting of Sandwell Council which passed plans to introduce parking charges in Wednesbury town centre.

Obituary notice
It is with deep sadness and regret that the death is announced of democracy:
a friend to the poor, the needy, the sick, the vulnerable
and to the people of this country.
Democracy died in Sandwell council chamber after a long illness.
The traders, residents and shoppers of Wednesbury were there at her bedside as she breathed her last, but were unable to save her.
She will be sadly missed and we shall never see her like again.
Democracy r.i.p

A bit dramatic? Well, that’s how it felt on Friday as we witnessed the rubber-stamped approval of the introduction of car parking charges in Wednesbury. It was a hard-fought battle and we lost, but we’re hard pressed to understand why and how.

We – the residents, traders and shoppers – have tried in vain to understand the justification offered by Sandwell Council for such an imposition. I jest not, but it seems to be quite simple: ‘everybody else is doing it’ and ‘we’ve done it elsewhere already so we’ve got to be shown to be fair.’ Hardly a convincing argument, is it?

The Council claims that it will plough back the revenue (estimated at £30,000 per year) into the maintenance of car parks, but there is already a budget for that. The Council also claims that the revenue will not be siphoned off to be used elsewhere, but that remains to be seen.

The Council rejected objections such as the rising costs to businesses forced to pay for permits; loss of custom driven into neighbouring boroughs still offering free parking (Bilston, anyone?); stealth taxation of the low paid, the sick, the bereaved, etc and the added inconvenience to residents. They rejected these, and other, arguments as “nothing (they) hadn’t heard before when charges were bought in Blackheath and Oldbury.”

So if these arguments have been bought in before by other groups, then surely they are valid and should be listened to? Let’s do the sums: 10,000 people in Wednesbury signed a petition opposing the car parking charges, preceded by 5000 in Blackheath and 3000 in Oldbury. That’s 18,000 people – all voters – who disagreed with the Council’s plans. And that’s 18,000 people who have been ignored because one councillor in a position of power, Cllr. Mahboob Hussein, has decided to bring in charges across Sandwell.

Now can you see why I asserted earlier that democracy is dead? He has chosen to fly in the face of all that opposition for no discernable reason and the political system that is local government allowed him to do it.

Over many years I have seen the political process at work and despaired. Many candidates start off with enthusiasm, vigour and deep-held beliefs and find, once elected, that it is worn away by the party line, the party whip, the good of the party. Few decisions taken seem to be for the good of the people, the people who elected them, and the people who fund them through taxation of one form or another.

The views of the people, in some places so seldom sought, count for nothing when the council machine fires up, because a few individuals in high places make decisions which affect us all and often we didn’t want.

I have also struggled to see how elected members can also be council officers. Is that not a conflict of interest?

I further struggle with the concept that a councillor can be a ‘cabinet member’ and, therefore, wield power over officers who are trained and experienced in certain fields. Councillors, like M.P.’s, make decisions about things they know nothing about, but it’s the people who suffer the consequences. The officers are reduced to merely doing as they are told because their job depends on it.

On Friday, I also witnessed the political venom that is party politics, where bitter attacks can be made simply because the person disagreeing wears a different colour rosette at election time. That is not for the good of the people, but for personal aggrandizement and retribution. It was also unprofessional, as was the talking over the representations from objectors. Petty schoolboy tactics, nothing more.

So, I have two messages: one for anyone who is elected to a position of power and the other for any eligible to vote.

Elected members please remember on whose behalf you are standing: it is the people, the people whose voice is never silent but frequently and wilfully ignored. They are the ones with the power and not you and you should respect and act upon their wishes.

Electorate, you are the ones with clout, the ones who can make or break a career. Next time your vote is asked for, do not give it lightly – question, harry, pressure the candidate for assurances that they will stand firm for the people. If they waver, then let them fall. They do not represent you.

Also see The day democracy died

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