For this week’s iFAQ, we decided to ask all councillors a question about the state of democracy in Medway. Given the predictability of the ebb and flow of council meetings, and how it’s usually fairly easy to guess the outcome to any given question, concerns have been raised about how democratic our local structures are. As such, all councillors received the following question:
If it’s possible to accurately predict the response to every question and motion at Medway Council meetings, what does this say about the state of democracy in Medway?
As usual, all councillors were told that their responses would be printed entirely unedited, with the results presented below in the order they were received:
No it is not especially at Overview and Scrutiny meetings and other committees. Full Council is more staged and the motions and questions are written in advance by parties and can be predicted in part especially with the spin from the ruling group.
Cllr Tristan Osborne, Labour, Luton and Wayfield
The Tories do not want democracy and the Cabinet decision-making system reinforces the dictatorship system to satisfy their list of government bosses instructions they enthusiastically action to keep their jobs. Real Council services for those most in need and deserving in our communities are slowly and dramatically getting worse, health inequalities are increasing, mental health services, children services and services for the ageing population are getting worse daily.
Democracy is about making the right decisions for the people of Medway, not decisions that are the least expensive or makes the Council a profit!!! There will be profound consequences for Medway communities in the near future , if Medway Council along with other Councils, do not address or take action on the serious housing issues involving over 3 million in Britain set out in the SHELTER report over the affordable housing crisis involving 3 groups of housing which are being failed under the current system and government policy. The issues are laid out in my question to the Leader for answering at the next Council meeting 24th January. It is not scaremongering, there will not be hundreds but thousands of people unable to find a rented property in Medway in the coming years and queuing outside Medway Council offices as homeless !!!
Cllr Roy Freshwater, UKIP, Peninsula
If it was possible, I might agree but I don’t think it is.
Cllr Phil Hall, Conservative, Strood North
Impossible to predict any question / motion posed, therefore equally impossible to predict the answers given.
Therefore the state of democracy based on this question is not in question.
Cllr Gary Etheridge, Conservative, Strood Rural
I don’t think this is specific to Medway. But your question raises 2 interesting points in my mind:- why do Councillors always vote along party line? – is the Cabinet system truly democratic?
Councillors vote along party lines because they are made to. The Conservative Group Constitution for instance forces you to vote in line with “Group decisions” (read Cabinet). Dissent is not tolerated… I have yet to witness a Council Meeting where no one in the room doesn’t know the outcome already. The majority passes whatever they want and the opposition put up motions mostly for posturing. It’s utterly depressing and explains why people are increasingly disengaged from local politics.
The Cabinet system in Medway is more concerning than the fact Councillors vote along party lines quasi systematically. Many decisions are made by Cabinet with no true concertation with other majority Cllrs let alone with the opposition. When things are brought to Full Council (which is usually done by the opposition even when majority Cllrs believe this is the right thing to do) the deal is already done as Cllrs from the majority are “whipped” into submission. So for all intents and purposes, Cabinet makes the decisions, not the Council.
This does not mean democracy in Medway is worse than elsewhere.In my opinion, democracy is well and truly dead when people stop voting, this is a privilege that our forefathers (and mothers) died for us to have and that many people across the globe wish they had!
Cllr Anne-Claire Howard, Independent, Twydall
The fact responses are so predictable is a sad reflection of Tory policy to not allow any follow up questions. Thursday night, as usual, was used by the Tories to make political points and blame the Labour Party for everything that is wrong in Medway. This despite the fact they have been in power for 19 years.A Labour Council would restore follow up questions and open up democracy to public scrutiny and accountability. The vote against the Modern Slavery motion was disgraceful. Many Tory authorities have signed up to this important issue but not ours.
Cllr Nick Bowler, Labour, Rochester East
First, I’m not sure it is easy to predict the outcome of questions and motions. In particular, I was surprised by the Conservatives’ response to my colleague, Cllr Dan McDonald’s, two recent motions, one on period poverty and the one at last council, on modern slavery. The same goes for my colleague Cllr Nauushabah Khan’s motion on Section 21, or my own motions a couple of years ago on young refugees and on diverting ward funds to children’s centres. My expectations or, at least, my hopes, on all these occasions were different to the outcomes.
Second, democracy is about discussion, debate and argument, about deciding between competing visions of the sort of society, the sort of future and the sort of world we want. I want a future of social and economic justice, of fairness, care and compassion. If I argue for those values I expect that those who oppose them will also do so. That might make events predictable – though I don’t believe they are as predictable as your question implies – but it also shows that democracy is alive in Medway.
Cllr Clive Johnson, Labour, Gillingham South
Sadly what took place on Thursday with the Modern Day Slavery motion shows the problem at hand. A complacent Tory administration won’t give recognition for any issue if they didn’t come up with the idea. So even though dozens of other councils of all political persuasions have signed up to this important charter Medway is left behind.
The example of preparation for Brexit motion is even worse – when the cross party O&S committee recommends this work being done and still the cabinet chooses to simply dismiss it, it shows the complete disregard of the views of not only the opposition councillors but their own backbenchers.
Cllr Vince Maple, Labour Leader, Chatham Central