“May you live in interesting times” ran the old Chinese curse, and it appears that Thanet may be about to overdose on political “interest”.
The local election in May left Thanet with a more-or-less hung council: 27 Conservative, 26 Labour and 3 Independents. In exchange for chairmanship of their preferred committees, the Indies backed Cllr Bayford’s bid for leadership – oh well, at least it was naked self-interest, rather than anything underhand…
However, it didn’t change the maths of the situation, so when John Worrow resigned the Conservative party whip (apparently disgusted by “his” party’s treatment of animal export protesters, and their disregard for the plight of Birchington businessmen), the main parties were back at level pegging, and the door was opened to tonight’s confidence vote and subsequent leadership vote.
Bob Bayford lost the confidence vote. Inexplicably, the Conservatives then presented him as the candidate for Leader. He lost again. Cllr Clive Hart is now Leader.
Theoretically, this game of musical chair could be played out at every full Council meeting, with the outcome being decided by the level of attendance, and the whim of the Independents. Clearly, this would be a totally ineffective way to run the Council. Personally, I’m rather taken with Michael Child’s assessment:
Essentially the problems revolve around there being no councillor charismatic enough to be a leader who would take all of the councillors with them and sort out some of the serious problems that Thanet has.
I don’t think either the Labour or the Conservative group have grasped the fundamentals of working within a situation where they have no overall majority. I think most councillors see the resolutions in terms of personal gain, handing out posts to independents that carry a good allowance, rather than in terms of actually trying resolve Thanet’s problems.
I think what I would do, if I was in the position of leading either group, would be to start with a list of objectives for the term of the current administration, put those objectives in the public domain, with a challenge to the independents to support them.
Herein lies the key. With the democratic power being so finely balanced, the solution must be found beyond the narrow interests of the representatives. Attention must be focussed on the wider and over-arching purpose of the representatives – to represent and promote the wishes and best interests of those they represent.
If the TDC councillors fail to grasp what is so often irritatingly called the “bigger picture”, we’re in for a long and dispiriting round of political mud-wrestling, petty squabbling, tit-for-tat point-scoring and venal pork barrel politics.
On the other hand, they could step back and look afresh at their duty to their community. Wherever they stand on the political spectrum, it must be clear to each and every councillor that Thanet has a number of glaringly obvious problems. Typically these require long-term solutions that need to be started immediately (or soon) and then pursued tenaciously – get stuck in, and stick at it.
This is the time for the councillors to concentrate on what matters to the electorate rather then what matters to the elected. Instead of squabbling (or at the very least, before becoming completely engrossed in squabbling) they could easily identify a handful of key objectives, policies or solutions that they largely agree on, and get cracking.
It is widely accepted within the Council that the relationship with Manston (particularly the S106 agreement and its monitoring) has been poorly handled, with the people of Thanet getting the short end of the stick – “if we were starting again, we wouldn’t start from here”.
Grasp the nettle, Cllr Hart:
- Discard the pretence that Manston is an “airfield” and embrace the fact that is an “airport”.
- Acknowledge the potential that a well-managed and thriving local airport would have.
- Accept that the central pillar of that good management must be proper planning consent for the airport and its operations as a whole, to rationalise and replace the piecemeal development of the last decade.
- Order an Environmental Impact Assessment to provide independent guidance for what is acceptable and sustainable.
- Put in place an S106 agreement that puts Kentish lives and quality of life before share-holder interests, and then monitor and enforce it.