Disclaimer: As a naive lefty who is clearly wrong about most things, Keevil has accepted a political life on the outside. Where it is easy to be dismissed, especially by those who are dismissive. Being in opposition to the administration isn’t about being anti-Tory or being contrary, it is about the need for a strong opposition in a strong democracy.
Rather than just accept that an election was won by a small percentage, or not by the majority of voters (the FPTP losers equivalent to the current government/administrations’s ‘Austerity is needed because of the last Labour government’ mantra), we need to ask;
What does it mean to be in opposition?
Is there any real power in opposition?
According to the freedictionary.com
A person or group of people opposing, criticising or protesting something, someone or another group.
Residents expect elected councillors to contribute to the development of policies and strategies, and for the councils policy’s to be signed off by full council, on which everybody sits. They expect concerns to be investigated and decisions to be communicated. They expect to be represented.
They expect those in opposition to question and hold those in power to account.
I’m going to try (I’ll fail) and sound non-partisan, when I say there are issues regarding the role of opposition in the Medway Towns.
Following the 2015 local election result, there was a new status quo, which heavily affected opposition and oppositional power in the Medway Unitary Authority.
Firstly; whilst I don’t think Medway Labour were expecting to lead the council, there was an expectation of increased group side, maybe even no overall control, a view held by this site at least. What resulted was in fact a strengthened and emboldened Conservative administration.
Secondly; whilst nobody expected the Medway Liberal Democrats to do well, their complete removal from council resulting in the loss of a Liberal/ liberal voice, should not be considered a good thing.
Thirdly; Chris Irvine’s foolishly noble decision to stand for election within the ward he lives. This meant the councillor for Penisula Ward and leader of UKIP Rochester/Medway UKIP group (delete as appropriate) left the council and the group lost it’s leader. UKIP have appeared rudderless in full council so far. They have already lost one member who become an independent and have made no meaningful contribution.
It’s the belief of this writer at least that Irvine’s absence is a bigger loss to ofpposition within council then that of Geoff Juby.
Fourthly; The Medway Green Party’s inabilty to build on its by-election profile and mount a credible challenge for a ward seat. Whilst they achieved a larger vote then Medway TUSC, TUSC have – angered by the Rainham North result – been more vocal in their opposition, at full council meetings at least.
The current administration seems angered by the audacity of an member of the council or the public who dares to question them and hold them accountable, going so far as to seek to change the process.
Forgetting that members of council not part of the administration were also elected to do exactly that, and that the administration works for the public, and should answer to them. Frankly more then six times a year at full council and once every four years at the ballot box.
The administration should respect the role of opposition. Whomever holds it. They should not seek to diminish it. Or undermine the politial process, through an ineffective oversight and scrutiny committee, chairing all other committees, and placing all decision making power within a ten person cabinet that meets for ten minutes.
Critical feedback is not a negative experience and any opposition should have an opportunity to contribute to the creation of policy and legislation.
They should oppose proposals they legitimately disagree with, be given an opportunity to voice that disagreement and not have that voice dismissed as sour grapes.
Democracy thrives when there is a peaceful rivalry and a balance between a majority, winner of the election, who is in a position to govern, but not monopolising all the power.
Whilst we can be relieved that there is no likelihood of the police being called to remove minority parties from council (though we should wait for the results of Cllr Mackness’ constitutional review, to be fully sure), there is a concern held by this site about the monopolisation of power with cabinet and the charing of committees.
The oppositions role is to oppose and to do that they must be able to participate in the political process. They then must do this effectively and responsibly. It is this area looking forward that needs to be monitored over the course of the administration.
If there is to be any true power in opposition the Medway electorate and elected needs to accept that:
1) Medway Unitary Authority is not a two party system.
2) They should not be dismissive of any smaller group seaking to gain a ward seat at the table.
3) A Liberal/liberal voice is needed.
4) As is a Green one.
Saying that, the two party system providing 3 & 4 only works if they actually do.
As the largest group in opposition, Medway Labour needs to also be held accountable for the positions they take on issues. Not opposing for opposing sake and ensuring they offer credible alternatives.
UKIP Rochester/Medway UKIP (delete as appropriate) has a spokes
person woman and they need to find their voice with council and represent the people that voted for them and continue to oppose anti-xenophobia.
Mark Joy’s first council meeting, as a councillor and an Independent councillor, gave an interesting dynamic as he opposed one Labour motion and supported another. Ignoring for this piece the purpose of either motion, this is a positive of opposition, voting on a case by case basis, with or against the opposition. Not along party lines. This is easer when you dont have a party line to follow, obviously.
I understand there is a position of group whip to stop people voting against the party line, but until member and public opposition amounts to more, then any opposition is purely for the record – decisions will continue to be made behind closed doors and outside of democracy.