Monday, 5 August 2013

Open and Shut Cabinet

Because of upcoming matters, it is desirable that I deal with the subject of the Cabinet system, as applied to local councils, as a separate topic beforehand.

It is amazing to me that even those involved directly in local politics have never grasped the true dual purposes of the Cabinet-and-Scrutiny models that were inflicted without any real choice on most councils around twelve years ago – or, if they did know, they never let on.

The two purposes were (1) to destroy as much as possible of local democracy, and (2) to allow Whitehall 'Mandarins' to control local councils' agendas virtually entirely. As I mentioned in last Friday's political digest, look down any Cabinet agenda (I was using my own council as a reference here) and you'll see renewal and monitoring of plans and strategies – just as in the early days and which were supposedly being more or less eliminated but never were – and awarding contracts.

There is no member/public business at any Cabinet meeting, unless I've missed the occasional exception! Even the Rochester Airport developments are almost identical to those proposed at least six years ago, and should have been implemented instead of yet another five-year lease.

How utterly thick can anyone be not to realise the Cabinet are under the almost complete de facto complete control of the Whitehall machine, via local officers who have their own channels to and from those Mandarins?

The initial clue was in the change immediately taking away most policy voting rights from all but the leader's élite group of ten (seometimes nine), even though all (then) eighty members had been elected on the same footing, not just the ten in the Cabinet – which was formed mid-term, by the way, so wasn't voted for or with knowledge of its impact. It was always so obvious.

Okay, while we were stuck with it, we had to make the best of it – which is why, when I was appointed by the council leader to be a scrutiny committee vice-chairman, I set out to do the very best job I could for our community. I wasn't perfect; but my method was so good that I was asked to write a guide for other scrutiny vice-chairman (it's still on file here).

It is also why – now off the Council myself and much more free to act independently – once Eric Pickles had announced that councils were going to be allowed to scrap the Cabinet system if they so chose, I asked my (public) question at Council to ascertain whether they would be doing so here in Medway. I got the answer I expected, couched in a style I had also come to expect: no; and indeed it hasn't happened.

Is there any possible reason to suggest that there are genuine benefits to the current political system? No: none whatsoever. I am sure that the waffling and prattling types in the Cabinet can swamp us with their regular verbal diarhhea – but it will count for nothing. There is no valid 'pro' argument. Take it from someone who has been on the inside and is well aware of all the nuances!

The public have felt more distanced from their elected representatives as well, and certainly those in the ruling group. I have watched the ongoing deterioration in that relationship over the years.

Thus the élite-of-ten, no doubt using techniques of which I am well aware to 'persuade' their party colleagues on the Council (and I have had hints of this from some members), have put their personal power-base ahead of their democratic duty to the quarter of a million people they supposedly represent.

This makes them, by the dictionary definition, corrupted by power, and it is one of the very biggest reasons why I can never again be a member of that political party: my standards of integrity are at least several billion times higher than that! Of course, I might have missed something vital that changes the whole argument; but I don't usually, do I? (Afterthought: this obviously applies to other councils that have not opted to revert; but in my own case, to which I was alluding, I'd not be thinking of standing in any of those, even if I had still been in that business.)

It would serve them right if, come 2015, they lost control of the Council to Labour and with it all that policy decision-making ability and all that goes with it – plus the very generous allowances that Cabinet members receive. If that were to happen, ideally for just one Council term (I think the electorate would soon realise they had made a mistake, however understandable at the time), I think the ruling group might then realise just how foolish they were in keeping the Cabinet.

They'll have lost it all; and there is no guarantee that it will revert four years later. Labour has always had the support of Unions, a huge number of public sector employees among the Medway electorate, and many others to continue to support them while in opposition. The Conservatives have none of that; and under a Cabinet system will be seen as an irrelevance, so could easily find their support (and vote count) dropping in future elections.

And all of this is because they clung to a corrupt, undemocratic model when they had the chance to get rid of it, and I alone offered them (via my public question) a public platform to announce – with local media present – that they were intending to do so.

More fool them!

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