Growing threat to democracy

By Keith Newbery

Friday, November 23, 2012

 

Growing threat to democracy

More decisions at County Hall are taken by individuals, without reference to other councillors.

THIS ISLAND LIFE YOU are never too old to try something new, as I discovered last Thursday. For the first time since toddling along to a Ryde polling station to put my cross next to 'Ronald Cawdell (Vectis Nationalist Party)’ at the 1970 general election, I refused an opportunity to vote.

It brought an end to 42 years of unfailingly exercising my right to suffrage, be it at a local or national level.

Though I value my vote highly, I value my right to protest even higher.

That is why I eschewed the opportunity to take part in the election of a police commissioner, which was an iniquitously cynical exercise in pseudo-democracy.

What on earth is remotely democratic about giving one person the right to determine how a police force should be run and by whom?

It would appear my disenchantment was shared by 95,268 other Island residents of voting age, who also found something better to do with their time.

No doubt the main reason for the abysmal turn-out of 14.3 per cent was indifference but I suspect many people also became alarmed at the gusto with which the contest was embraced by all political parties.

The hypocrisy was remarkable, as the Conservatives, the Lib Dems and Labour all denied Cameron’s 'flagship policy’ was an attempt to politicise the police — and promptly deployed every means at their disposal to ensure their candidate won.

My worst fears were confirmed as to the motives behind those seeking to become commissioners, when John Prescott threw his hat into the ring in Humberside.

This buffoon has been allowed to fail upwards his entire life and it has left him with a thirst for power which is impossible to slake.

Putting him in sole charge of a vast budget, and hire-and-fire powers over a chief constable, would have been like letting let a chimp loose with a loaded AK 47 in a crowded supermarket.

We must therefore derive some consolation from the fact the person who ended up with the job in Hampshire and the IW — someone called Simon Hayes — is ostensibly an independent and he has some experience and knowledge of the way the police operate.

But the fact remains the advent of police commissioners is a sinister and illiberal development in a country where true democracy is continually under threat.

Take local authorities, for example.

There was a time (and I should know, I covered enough of the meetings as a frazzled young hack) when every part of the council decision-making process was open to public scrutiny.

Next year on the Island, we will be electing 40 councillors, yet the vast majority will be little more than nodding dogs.

This is because key powers will reside with a handful of cabinet members, all of whom have the right to use delegated powers to make some decisions without reference to other councillors.

Perhaps someone who knows about these things could take the time to write in and explain to everyone how the democratic process is better served by this shadowy approach to decision-making.

No, the suggested home swap would not be a very good idea, thanks

DESPITE sharing the same tenement block for more than five years, La Hofton and I rarely socialise.

This is entirely understandable, because she is not exactly a familiar fixture at Island cricket matches and I have always found crochet and wine-making to have a limited appeal.

This means that on the rare occasions we do meet up, there’s always plenty to yarn about. The latest occasion was the launch of the Visit IW tourism initiative at Osborne House, where we found ourselves described (albeit obliquely) by one of the speakers as 'cynics’.

"We know who we mean, don’t we?" he added conspiratorially and a vengeful murmur of approval went round the room.

A smile flitted across La Hofton’s normally taciturn features. We columnists don’t get many compliments, so that one was gratefully received.

Anyway, we got to chatting about kids and I was intrigued to hear about the fascinating job her son has at the House of Lords.

We shared our pleasure at the fact he achieved this pre-eminence without the aid of an expensive and meaningless degree course.

Indeed, had we not been in such august company (nouvelle cuisine merchants, pop festival impresarios whose 'forward planning’ was capable of bringing the Island to a standstill, etc) we may even have indulged in a high five.

At one point, the council’s deputy leader, George Brown, cast his patrician gaze in our direction with the cheerful greeting of: "Ah, upstairs, downstairs.’

He then suggested we swap abodes for a week, with me occupying the basement flat and La Hofton luxuriating in the penthouse.

Madam’s lips pursed in instant disapproval, as she muttered about not being able to tolerate the minimalist decor, not to mention the empty beer cans all over the floor.

George, undaunted, then suggested the editor of this esteemed organ should transpose our by-lines one week to see if anyone noticed. We’re still trying to work out whether it was a compliment or an insult.

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