Thursday, February 26, 2009

Voting LibDem - What's the Point?

Special Council this evening to finally consider the Cabinet's proposed budget for next year.

Everyone acknowledged that this was the most difficult budget round in living memory - and of course the challenges faced by Darlington Borough Council are no different to those faced by local authorities up and down the country. Still it was good that after listening to the public, and finding additional savings, the Mayor's Charity Shop, the South Park Aviary and the cycle and pedestrian training for schoolchildren could be saved pending further discussions. Although the opposition is loath to ever mention it, Darlington has a reputation for delivering excellent value for money, as evidenced by the assessment of the independent Audit Commission.

Tonight's debate centred on an amendment moved by the Conservatives - not about how money could be saved, but rather the mechanism for monitoring progress during the year. Conservative contributions were somewhat muddled - according to Cllr. Heather Scott this is because they are a democratic group, but anarchy seemed to reign. We had eveything from Cllr. Charles Johnson praising "a Conservative budget" to Cllr. Bill Stenson who wanted to close the Civic Theatre to keep the toilets open in Heighington.

Contributors like Cllr. Tony Richmond and Alan Coultas were heard in respectful silence. But with so little ambition or foresight on the Tory side, it wasn't hard to rebut their arguments. After all, as Cllr. Steve Harker for Labour pointed out, last year the Tories wanted to cut the Council Tax by selling land. That strategy we now know would have caused a financial meltdown for the Council. At this, one or two Tories shifted uneasily in their seats.

The Conservatives also spent some time trying to steal Labour's clothes. They wanted management of vacancies amongst Council staff, but amongst the 60 redundancies proposed in the budget, no less than 30 are currently-vacant posts - clear evidence of the measures the Tories claimed they wanted to champion. They went on to demand more innovative arrangements to save money - ignorant apparently of hook-ups like the Darlington/Stockton partnership which is saving Council Tax payers money on both sides of the border.

Light relief was provided as always, however, by the LibDems. Group Leader Martin Swainston angrily denounced the Labour administration for never following through on their promises. It took my colleague Geoff Walker, in a wonderfully understated speech, to gently point out that not only had Cllr. Swainston missed the Cabinet meeting when the budget was considered, but no fewer than all of the 6 scrutiny meetings devoted to the Council's finances - on the 12th January, the 15th January, the 19th January, the 22nd January, the 29th January and 10th February 2009.

So discussion of the Council's budget was limited to only Labour and Tory councillors, because the LibDems couldn't be ar**d to turn up. If this were more generally known, I wonder whether residents in Hurworth and North Road would be prepared to continue to return these clowns?


Bonzo said...

Nick you say "I wonder whether residents in Hurworth would be prepared to continue to return these clowns?"

Lets face it there are many out here in Hurworth who simply love clowns, look how many there are on the Parish Council, they (90% by vote) fenced off our public land and spent £9K doing it for only one resident, so we are pretty tolerant of insanity out here.

Which leaves us with the scenario..."better the clown you know than the liar you cannot trust", many of us out here in Hurworth still remember a certain person saying "Hurworth (school) will not close" then proceeded under the guise of an academy merger to try to close it, yet it is still here doing better than ever and has recently been awarded science status, I believe.

So stuff John William's and his lies and bring on the clowns!

Nick to be frank, this story smells a little of bitterness at a long lost Labour seat in Hurworth, when really anyone within the Labour Party in Darlington knows why Labour will never win again out here and the fact is your "clown MBE" lied to us and like elephants we won't forget that quickly.

Lose your leader and you might get a seat back out here until then forget it!

Darlington Councillor said...

No, it's not bitterness Bonzo. I do genuinely think the residents of Hurworth have the right to know that one of their ward councillors, who is after all the leader of the third largest group on the Council, declined to attend any of the Scrutiny meetings regarding the budget - there were at least 7.

As a result, for all their huffing and puffing in Focus newsletters, there was zilch LibDem input into the scrutiny of this year's council budget - acknowledged as the most difficult in years.

If you can't rely on the LibDems to be bothered about this issue, what do they consider important?

I wait to see if the Echo covers this element of the budget story from last night's Special Council, but I'm not holding my breath!

As for John and Hurworth School - this is ground well-travelled. But you are being very unfair on John - he did NOT lie about the future of the school. The historic comment was made in good faith, but sometimes circumstances change.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to coming to your circus-loving village soon! :)

miketually said...

Lab: Voting LibDem - What's the Point?
Con: Ba Ba Red Sheep, Again!
Lib: Special Budget Council

cocoa said...

Whilst your point re lack of attendance at scrutiny is well made. I would just remind you that cllr swainston was re-elected in 2007, and gained a fellow lib dem cllr in Cllr Dunstone at the same time.
Your defence of Cllr Williams though, whilst certainly "ground well travlled", cannot go without comment. He made by far the most unpleasant and undignified statement made by anyone during the whole school debacle ; that education at Hurworth represented "educational cleansing by social class"
No apology for this disgusting slur on everyone associated with the community and the school has ever been offered.

However, the school moves forward apace, with a newly approved second specialism in science now approved it can look forward to the brightest of futures.

One thing that is totally apparent is that no matter what any elected representative does, be it with the best of intentions, there will always be those who will knock and disparage their efforts. These people usaully turnout out to be the ones who actually contribute very little, spending all their time bemoaning the efforts of others.

I am sure you will very a warm welcome to our village.

Bonzo said...


I must be honest I had forgot that vile comment, just as I have forgot Labour under its present leader.

No mention of Cllr. Dunstone... was he in attendance at any/all of the budget meetings? if so Hurworth was represented.

I am sure (like many Cllrs.) Cllr. Swainston is a very busy and cannot be in 3 places at once.

I recall a Council ward attendance list approx last year where the top 5 noticable by their abscence from their own ward surgereys were Labour so there is always mud to throw if you look for it.

Nick, on a happier note the circus here in Hurworth unlike other places is a year round attraction and provided you don't want to take any land from us, all visitors are welcome.

In fact I recall you yourself once performed with the resident clowns about a year ago sadly I missed that meeting, but I did see you at the Chrismas gala doing ballon animals no sorry you were Ringmaster for the day. ;)

Keep smiling its only 14 days to red nose day when everyone becomes a clown. I'll send JW one along with a shoe horn to get his foot out of his mouth.

The ground may be well travelled but it's certainly not forgot!

PS: good luck with the rasberry canes.

Billy Smart Ret: said...

I'm not from Hurworth so have no axe to grind but it does sound a very Hitleresque comment and one not becoming of anyone who holds an MBE.

As for the circus, I will look forward to it, there is always plenty of contoversy to be read about Hurworth in the Northern Echo. Whilst maybe not to good for local politics it does show that the rival factions do have a passion and will fight for what they believe to be right, and not just roll over and die.

Good for you, whichever side of the fence (punn intended) you are on, politics is passion and those without it should not be in it.

A much better topic than the constant BNP rantings!

Roll up, Roll up!

Anonymous said...

Liontamer said

The Lib Dem Councillors are respected business and professional people. Your insulting comments on them betrays your education or lack of it and shows you up to be rather an unpleasant, ill mannered fellow.

Darlington Councillor said...

Well then.

Firstly, thansk to Mike for posting links to the (very contrasting) views of my fellow bloggers Gill Cartwright and Mike Barker.

I'm always amused by the allegation that somehow Labour Councillors are driven en masse to vote for positions they profoundly disagree with, whilst the Tories (who similarly vote en bloc) are simply voting with their consciences.

Gill seems to be suggesting that were it not for the Group decision making process, Labour Councillors would have inevitably lined up with the Tories over this year's Budget. Laugahable.

Anyway, there's lots more interesting stuff about Hurworth. To be honest, I never know quite what to think about the Parish Council of late - is it one of the most vibrant local democracies in the North East, or is it somewhat (ahem) dysfunctional? Maybe a bit of the two?

What I completely agree with is that the village is very lucky to have people with a passion for their community like the 2 Ians Holme and White. They may take contrasting sides of an argument now, but their commitment to the village is tangible.

Finally, as has been hinted above, politicians criticizing each other for not attending meetings can be a bit of a nil sum game - at the end of the day there are meetings that I miss too.

It's also the case that some councillors, and Martin and I are 2 of them, have a huge juggling act to conduct, with full-time jobs and family commitments too, as well as our civic duties.

However, Martin has put himself out front by agreeing to be the Leader of his Group on the Council - his leadership should naturally be under scrutiny. What he does should tell us something about the character of the LibDems should they ever (God help us) have some frontline Cabinet responsibility in Darlington.

And Martin misses loads of important meetings. He's almost never at Cabinet, where he should be the voice of the LibDems, leaving this to Mike Barker and occasionally Peter Freitag.

It's my impression that Malcolm Dunstone, the other LibDem from Hurworth is a far better attender at the committees he is on (he's also very personable).

But Malcolm can't attend Resources Scrutiny and take part as a full member - only Martin can do that. And he took no part in any of the Budget discussion, as I've indicated.

You may think it's bad manners, lion tamer, to point this out, but it is true. Which is why I repeat - what's the point of voting LibDem in local elections if they're not going to actually take part in the key decision making processes?

BNP Volunteer said...

You posed the question "Voting Lib Dem, whats the point?".
I quite agree with you Nick. As is universally acknowledged, there is only a fag paper between the policies of Labour and Tory and the Lib Dems are sandwiched somewhere in between.

I can understand why people join the BNP when they see asylum seekers in their faces or criminals getting away with light sentences.

Traditionally people join the Tories or Labour because of class hatred or simply choosing to join the strongest party in their area to get up the ladder (aka carpetbaggers. One sitting Darlington Labour councillor in a safe seat is a known Tory supporter according to one of our contacts in another town who knows this person).

Further blurring between the parties can be highlighted by the amount of Thatcherites in New Labour - Mandelson for example or "right on" lefty types in the Tories such as David Cameron.