Monday, 8 July 2013

In defence of the busy body - a reply

Well well I find I can agree to a certain extent with Mario Creatura, who works for Tory Central Croydon MP Gavin Barlow, in his contribution to Croydon Citizen 'In defence of the busy body',  defending political and community activism.

When I interrupted the Council meeting on Monday (1 July) it was to stress the importance of recognising the value of members of the public seeking to making a positive contribution. The report of the Scrutiny Committee did not state that members of the public contributed at the main Committee and submitted a paper for the Housing sub-committee. Nor did the Chairman request that fact be recorded in the official Council minutes. Mario’s party treated that public contribution with contempt. No wonder there are lots of ‘community activists’ who are cynical towards the Council. I have argued on my blog why people should not disengage from the Council . 

The difference between me and Mario is that while I am a ‘political activist’, Mario is a  ’party political activist’.  There is a fundamental difference between the two types of activist. A ‘political activist’ can be a free agent deciding what position to take on any issue. ‘Party political activists’ are members of organisations which expect a certain level of loyalty to the political line.  I resigned the Labour Party in November 1996 because of what I regarded as the ‘democratic centralist’ contempt for the views and concerns of ordinary Party members. Even when I was a member of the Labour Group on Wandsworth Council in the mid 1980s I did not always follow the party line. I’ve not rejoined because nothing has changed about Labour since; the Bla-cherites are still trying to call the shots.

People who regard themselves as ‘community activists’ and volunteers are making a political statement. They recognise that society is not based on isolated individuals but a complex set of relationships and networks, and that too often ‘party politics’ has created the conditions that require community action and volunteering. The tree huggers of Mowbray St made a political statement that they are discontented with the Council officials for imposing a street lighting solution on them without adequate consultation, just as they are doing in my street. These officials are not properly accountable to our elected politicians who fail to understand the need to scruitinise the details.

Every time the Council comes up with a proposal people do not like and are moved to take a variety of actions they are engaging in the political process. And it is not edifying to watch the local Tory Council leadership’s ducking and diving as they give themselves deeper and deeper in holes over libraries, the Riesco Collection, Fairfield Halls, etc.

The main political divide is not between the political parties, but between those whose value systems seek to build and strengthen community and those who undermine and destroy it. I regard the ConDem Alliance, which Mario is a foot soldier for as the Decepticons of British politics. They are in breach of the Trades Description Act; the Conservatives do not conserve; and the Liberals are no longer liberal! As for Labour well – they are thrashing about not sure whether to be a less brutal type of Decepticon or fight back like Autobots.
Both The Decepticons and the national Labour leadership have for years launched vicious attacks on those at the bottom of society, in the hope that the majority will fall for the lies involved. The result is to fragment community and set different groups against each other, taking people’s gaze of the real culprits of the global crisis.

All three major political parties are locked in a web of what I call ‘New Corruption’, in thrall to the City, the bankers, the newspaper barons, the multi-national companies, distant from the people they claim to represent, and who have hived off responsibility to unaccountable regulators, quangos and the Bank of England.  

A key part of the local government political process should be about questioning  the information that supports a particular political recommendation. What other options were considered and discarded?  What information that does not support the recommendation has been withheld?   If the ruling group is not open and transparent then, working together in and across their  community groups,  ‘political activists’ should ensure that Councillors are sent questions and additional information before every Committee, submit questions for the full Council meetings, ask opposition Councillors to put questions down to the Leader and the Executive, and if need be refer decisions to the Local Government Ombudsman and the District Auditor. But above all they should come up with their own agendas, as the South Croydon Community Association initiated in relation to Fairfield Halls. All this should be in addition to the usual methods of campaigning. 

But do not make the mistake of relying on campaigning on the internet. Most people do not follow things on the web. Several people have told me they have never heard of Croydon Citizen or Inside Croydon. They still need to be leafleted, spoken to, asked to sign paper petitions, and encouraged to write to their Councillors. And they need to be offered the chance to meet together to discuss the issues.

Finally Mario all power to your elbow in making  a strong case within your own Party for more transparency and openness in the Council,  more acknowledgement of  public contributions, and less dismissiveness of public concerns. 

Oh - one last suggestion: do tell the Mayor it does not look good when she walks past the Community Tent as she did at the Wandle Park Revival Day on Saturday.

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