“The worst kind of self-congratulatory, derogatory, tribal politics”
From George Dokimakis
I attended for the first time on Tuesday evening (July 7) the monthly Guildford Borough Council meeting. I was expecting debate on Guildford’s key issues and I wanted to experience first-hand how the elected officials that hold Guildford’s future in their hands go about safeguarding it.
What I experienced was the worst kind of self-congratulatory, derogatory, tribal politics where power grab was pretty much the order of the day.
I was expecting to see the Conservatives, having won an unprecedented 35 out of 48 seats, through no effort of their own but because of the coincidence of the general election and the fact that local election results follow national trends, being magnanimous in their victory.
Instead I witnessed contempt for the other parties, especially for the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), whose only fault was to challenge the status quo and win three seats from the Conservatives.
No wonder young people are switched off politics when a number of white, middle-aged men are only interested in their own opinion and congratulating each other for the fantastic job they believe they are doing without any regard for what would be best for the borough they represent.
During the pompous proceedings there was complete disregard for all opposition, ignoring the fact that the opposition are elected members representing thousands, the majority actually*, of the borough’s residents.
Request for transparency by the GGG was denied on the questionable grounds of data privacy.
But worst of all was the election of councillor representatives for a number of charities across Guildford.
A number of concerns were raised as to how or why candidates were put forward. In any fair selection, you would expect at least a small biography from each candidate explaining why they are best suited to the position in question as well as allow the candidates to state their case for nomination.
Not in Guildford Borough Council. There is no time for anything non-partisan in there. As long as a Conservative is chosen we can dispense with such niceties.
In a vote that can only be described as a farce, the council did not explain why these people were chosen as candidates nor allow the candidates to explain to the electorate, their fellow councillors, why they were best suited for the position and its requirements.
The explanation for this? There was not enough time and the councillors would stay there for a few more hours if such proceedings were allowed. Guildford’s citizens must be proud to know that their elected representatives, in their one monthly meeting do not have enough time for democracy to take its course.
Why waste time, when the outcome is predetermined and unless you are a Conservative, you won’t be voted in?
Two cases stand out: Cllr Angela Gunning’s removal from the Guildford Waterside Centre as well as Cllr Julia McShane’s removal from the Westborough and Park Barn Community Centre.
In a move that represents the nasty approach the Conservatives plan to follow for the next four years, prior to the meeting Cllr Iseult Roche [Con, Worplesdon] notified Cllr Gunning [Lab, Stoke], against whom she was standing, of her intention to withdraw her nomination.
Then, during the proceedings, Conservative Cllr Roche decided to withdraw her withdrawal whilst at the same time making a small speech as to why she was the most appropriate candidate for the position, the only speech allowed.
Lo and behold, she was voted in with Conservative councillors voting, as throughout, almost en bloc.
Similarly, Cllr McShane [Lib Dem, Westborough], a long-standing councillor for her ward was voted out of the Westborough and Park Barn community centre in favour of the two Conservative councillors in the ward, who had stood as “paper candidates”. One of them had not even turned up for the council meeting.
In a council where the leader proclaims the importance of re-building the council’s damaged reputation, yet sees no issues with remaining in business with a convicted forger and deceiver, we should only expect the council’s resources to be used in favour of the narrow-minded Conservatives’ political agenda instead of the well-being of all of Guildford borough’s citizens, to improve living standards right across the borough.
At the same time, the opposition can be ignored and held in contempt throughout.
As the elections held that night showed, there was no concern for the needs of the external organisations, only the needs of the Conservatives. The next four years will deteriorate Guildford’s standard of living for most residents unless they happen to support the Conservatives.
The council meeting clearly showed that in Guildford Borough, local politics do not transcend party politics and petty behaviours. No wonder it switches people off.
George Dokimakis is a member of the Labour Party.
*47%, of those that voted in the recent GBC elections, voted conservative.