River Wissey Lovell Fuller

A week in Politics

February 2020

Actually, it feels a lifetime. I just want to talk a bit about the context of politics here in West Norfolk. We have a lot of opportunities to engage politically, whether like myself as an elected Borough Councillor or as importantly as a parish councillor. In Norfolk we also get to choose our County Councillors and then there are various elected posts – for example The Police Commissioner, as well of course as our Member of parliament. I’ve always believed it is important to vote, if only to spoil your ballot paper, rather than not engage at all. I have always been a floating voter, which means I don’t feel a strong emotional commitment to past values and try to make my decisions on the basis of the policies and occasionally the candidate I am backing. I try to keep my mind open for as long as possible. The General election we are in the middle of is a case in point – especially here in South West Norfolk where we have three excellent female candidates, and on the biggest issue I think they all offer different policies. This may well end up mas are run of the referendum with all the divisiveness that that entails, as our choices seem to be outright rejection of Brexit, commitment to a second referendum or “ just get it done “ with whatever deal has been negotiated. The problem with this is that it is non binary (!) – it is likely that no one party will get a commanding majority of votes which means its views will be opposed by a majority of voters. A bit like the parliament just expired! Turnout at general elections is on the rise, having fallen from 83.9% in 1950 to 59.4% in 2001 to 68.7% in 2017. This is a shame as there are many other issues which matter very much to our future wellbeing and the detail will be lost as the mandate will be unclear. All I can say is look at the candidates and listen to the arguments that are put forward and try to vote on the basis of what is offered. Go to hustings if you can and ..even..get involved in discussions with those around you. Remember the Golden Rule…always be civil and respect the right of anyone to disagree with you. Part of that is to avoid emotive, divisive language. I am not a traitor or closet racist if I do not agree with you, and at some point, in the future the country will achieve a final outcome and at that point we must all respect that a complex democratic exercise has delivered this. With all the confusion of the last three years I do wonder how other systems might have operated. I think that to have a system where the government has to get the agreement of parliament whilst apparently shambolic ensures very full debate, and that has to be a good thing. Local politics are hopefully a bit different. At Parish Council level it is very sad that there is so little participation, which means often that elections are uncontested. Normally, not always, such positions are apolitical, and it does seem that it is the same group of people who put themselves forward for an unpaid job of leading their community. Parish Councils have budgets and make decisions on rural infrastructure, and with the advent of The Neighbourhood Plan initiative have the opportunity to set out community specific planning policies, numbers of dwellings, sizes of development and type and appearance of house amongst other things as well as infrastructure. Parish Councillors are the first and often strongest link in the chain...they live in their parishes and are the first to hear complaints ( and sometimes praise) for their locality. I was chair of the parish council in Stoke Ferry at one time and know how difficult it can be. You are of course unpaid, and available 24/7. I would love to see more people step forward for this important role, and to be welcomed by their parish councils for their ability to contribute and share the burden. The skills learned here can allow for a step up to the next level of government. For us it is the Borough Council… Local voting here is along party lines (I was elected as an Independent ) . For individual councillors there affiliation will determine their membership of the scrutiny panels, and of course if your group wins ( as the Conservatives did in spite of a severe loss of seats and experienced councillors in May) then there is the allure of cabinet membership and chair of the important panels – Community and Environment, Regeneration and Development, Corporate Performance, Audit, Planning, Licensing. In return councillors are expected to conform to the agenda of the party of which they are members, which will often mean block voting on decisions. As an Independent and not a member of the governing group I do not have to toe a party line on my voting, and I try to reflect on what is best for our community. Our Borough Council is big business, employing 500 or so people and with a turnover of around £100m per annum. There are around 150,000 inhabitants living in around 60,000 households. There are 102 parishes and 55 councillors, of whom 28 were elected as conservatives in 2019. Much of what the Council does is statutory, and its policies are subject to continuous review, so developing policy is never easy. The main things the Borough Council does for us are Housing, Council Tax, Benefits, Planning, Parking, Waste collection. The Borough funds the parish councils and most of the monies it receives through council Tax are allocated to the next layer of government, the County Council. The Borough Council is under relentless pressure as central funding has been reduced leading to cost reductions and reduced employment, and much greater work to use the Council’s assets (mainly property) to generate income to cover expenditure on services. Our Borough is a mix of urban (King’s Lynn) and rural with some larger communities, so it is up to rural councillors ( like me ) to ensure that resources are available for the needs of our rural communities. Much of the Councils business is available for scrutiny online and of course mane meetings are open to the public. I’m not saying that attending a full council meeting will be a highlight of your social year but it is interesting to see how decisions are made and how dissent is expressed. If you want to attend, get in touch with me and I will give you details. Anyhow, I digress. We do have a very important General Election coming up and I really hope that as many of us as possible vote and that we vote having looked long and hard at the policies on offer, and decide in our own minds what the most important issues are, and inform ourselves by scrutiny of our candidates and their parties, and accept whatever result the electoral system delivers in December.

Tom Ryves

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