For myself, I think the idea of a “whipped” vote (when members are formally ordered to toe the party line) is an affront to democracy. Each councillor’s first duty is to the residents of their ward, and if that conflicts with party policy, then the residents’ interests should win every time.
That said, there is no practical way of telling whether a vote has been informally whipped, with the usual mix of sticks and carrots. And there’s always (thankfully) some bloody-minded/ruggedly independent individuals who simply won’t do what they’re told.
Finally, I do wish politicians wouldn’t say things like “People will have to trust us” – it’s guaranteed to raise both chuckles and hackles.
Thanet Labour leader Clive Hart has denied a U-turn on his party’s pre-election anti night-flight pledge.
Manston airport’s owner Infratil has revealed plans for up to eight movements a night, in an application submitted to Thanet council last week. That will kick-start 12 weeks of public consultation on the proposals, which if approved would overturn the current ban on scheduled aircraft landing or taking off after 11pm or before 7am.
In the run up to May’s local elections the district’s Labour party said that it would unanimously oppose night flights from Manston. After the election, which left Thanet council hung, Labour claimed that its no to night flights policy had helped swing the vote in the Nethercourt area of Ramsgate, which lies under one of the airport’s flight paths.
This week, in a statement responding to Infratil’s submission, Mr Hart said his members will be giving their own views during the consultation. He said:
“Over the coming weeks and months members of the Labour group will scrutinise the proposed night-flying document carefully and thoroughly. Our district councillors will then make their individual views known at the appropriate points in the process, having taken account of all the information available.”
The Conservatives already guaranteed an “unwhipped” free vote for their group members.
The latest night flight policy proposal was submitted to Thanet council by Infratil last Thursday. The proposal’s include an aircraft noise assessment report and an economic assessment explaining the implications of the proposal. This application follows on from previous proposals for night-time flying which were submitted to the council by the airport in September 2010. Mr Hart has denied that the party’s most recent statement is at odds with their original campaign pledge. He said:
“It would be foolish to say anything about it when we could be barred from speaking on any possible future planing [sic] application, and that is the situation we are in. We haven’t gone back on any of our pledges. People can think what they like, for me to say anything else won’t do anybody any favours. I would bar myself from taking part in the debate. People will have to trust us.”
Council leader Bob Bayford said:
“I definitely think that a free vote is the right way to go, which is what our policy has always been. I am not sure how people, who voted Labour on the pledge that they will be against night flights, will feel about Labour’s recent statement.”
The council will now seek an independent assessment of the proposals and technical reports by an external company before public consultation on the proposal can begin. Mr Bayford said:
“We know this is a hugely important issue, especially for those living under the flight path, so will be providing a minimum consultation period of 12 weeks for people to have their say. I’d like to encourage everyone with a view to ensure they take the time to participate.”
The latest proposal details plans for an average of eight scheduled flights a night. Scheduled night flight are currently prohibited under the airport’s agreement with the council. A start date for a full consultation will be announced when an independent report is completed.
Paul Twyman, the independent chairman of the Kent International Airport Consultative Committee, said the committee was in favour of the development of the airport, subject to satisfactory environmental controls. He added:
“The key issue is whether the proposals put to the council take proper account of the effect on the environment, and how that balances with the employment and other economic benefits. It is important that the public consultation takes place with plenty of information in the public domain, and that we all have ample time to consider what is proposed. I am in the hands of the committee, but I am pretty sure that they will want to have a special meeting to discuss the application, and there will be pressure for this to be in public.”
The new night flight submission can be viewed here.
IoT Gazette 4th Nov 2011