Blurring the boundaries between party and state

As I was walking through Newnham yesterday, I was approached by a local resident who was anxious to raise a significant planning issue that affects the ward.

I will write about that issue in another post, but what struck about this case was the way in which information on the proposal has come to light and how easy it is to confuse the boundaries between political parties and the organs of government when the democratic process breaks down (see my discussion in http://stephenoliver.me/2010/02/26/they-call-this-democracy/).

The present issue concerns consultation on a proposed new cycle route through Newnham that will involve closing a road to through traffic in private cars.  A consultation process was started in February with local residents receiving notification by leaflets in their letter boxes.  The consultation documents were posted in the Council web site in the first week of March with a deadline for responses of 26th March (which has since been extended to 8th April), although the website originally mentioned 19th March.  A public information meeting was scheduled for the 17th March, less than 9 days before the original consultation period ended.

On 15th March, subscribers to the Newnham Lib Dem mailing list received an email from Rod Cantrill (one of Newnham’s present councillors and the Lib Dem PPC for South West Bedfordshire) inviting residents to the consultation meeting and urging responses to the consultation by the 26th March.  For many residents affected by the proposed road closure this was the first time they had even heard of it.

This raises many questions.  Quite apart from the relatively late notice and confusion in communications from Cambridge City Council, why are Newnham Liberal Democrats behaving as though they are official spokespeople for the Cambridge City Council via their party website and mailing list?  The council is supposed to be an independent local government organisation with an elected and democratically representative governing body.  Newnham Liberal Democrats is a party political organisation that exists to promote the interests of the national Liberal Democrats party in the Newnham ward.

Newnham ward has three councillors, elected on a rolling basis.  All three ward councillors are Liberal Democrats and this has been the situation for years, although as a rule they have attained less than 50% of the votes cast.  Across Cambridge, Lib Dems control two thirds of the seats in the chamber despite having only 35% of votes cast.  The Conservatives, the second largest political party with over 25%  of the vote, have only one of the forty two seats in the Chamber.

The arrogance of the Newnham Liberal Democrats underlines the crisis of democracy in Cambridge City.  We need a change of attitude in the chamber and better representation of all view points.  This will only come by eliminating the Lib Dem stranglehold on democracy on 6th May.

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About Stephen Oliver

I am a management consultant/non-executive director and charity trustee based in Switzerland.
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