The Green administration in Brighton & Hove is consulting as never before. Pretty much everything that can benefit from a public consultation is subjected to one. There’s currently 13 consultative processes, all of which you can participate in online:
- Consultation on the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) and Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategy
- Improving Resident Involvement
- Innovative Travel Survey
- Further Consultation on Rampion Offshore Wind Farm
- 20 mph
- Draft Brighton & Hove Council Tax Low Income Discount Scheme
- People’s Day 2012 – Feedback Survey
- Healthwatch survey
- Draft Brighton & Hove Local Biodiversity Action Plan
- Portal Poll
- Research Guidance & Community Engagement Information Page
- Employers Aware: Able To Work Survey
- Carers Outcomes monitoring 2012/13
It’s a simple idea, getting the public to join in with political discussions before decisions get made. Encouraging public engagement with politics has been a mission inside the Green movement from long before their recent modest political successes. Most Green Party activists live according to the motto, “be the change you want to see“. In other words, they live a lifestyle which challenges the way the human population does its business with the planet. Aside from lessening their own harm, they seek to encourage others to do likewise, in the hope that we will achieve what is called One Planet living: whereby humans will only require one planet to live on. At current levels of resource depletion, we need three and a half. Trouble is, we’ve only got one! Having obtained power in Brighton & Hove, the Greens are promoting consultations like no party ever before them.
Labour activists have criticised this approach. “Oh no, another consultation“, groans their twitter feeds, “can’t the Greens make any decision for themselves?” The traditional Labour view of politics has been that a party sets out its stall, invites the voters to browse its wares and then carries out its policy when elected. There’s a great deal of common sense in this approach and, of course, they still perform the consultations required on them by law. The accusations levelled at the last Labour government, that they stopped listening to the consultative processes and just went through the motions, were unfair. They did what they were elected to do. Apart from the illegal war, of course, and let’s face it, they did hold that infamous Parliamentary debate before that. That was the first time that Parliament had ever been consulted like that before going to war. Nevertheless, Labour’s general position is that the Greens should stop faffing around with public money on consultations and become more ‘decisive’.
The Greens counter that with so many wares on the stall, it is impossible to be certain that the electorate is in favour of all of them. More importantly, no-one has a monopoly on political wisdom and the consultation process allows the possibility that something previously not considered can emerge. Nowadays that is called crowd sourcing.
Petitioning the council is another time honoured method for the public to make their views known. Putting signatures to a definite statement carries weight in our democratic system. If people are prepared to sign something, they may well vote for the people who raise the petition. It can be a successful political tactic.
Thus Labour and the Tories in Brighton are avidly collecting signatures for all sorts of issues. Some of these are completely spurious, opposing cuts to things which have no threat of cuts. This is one of the oldest tricks in the book. “Look, I saved X, Y & Z by my successful campaign“, it says later on election leaflets. Petitions have the distinct advantage of clarity: their point is usually very specific. They need not be raised by party political activists either, though that is far more common. Consequently, if a Tory presents a petition to the council with a couple of hundred signatures, the natural suspicion of everyone else is that they have simply rounded up all their party members. To be successful, petitioners need to show that they command much broader support. For some reason, the Tories don’t seem to be able to do that as often as Labour activists.
Petitions can be raised at any time. Recently, the opposition have taken to raising petitions in Brighton & Hove after consultation periods have ended. This begs the question as whether it isn’t just a cynical exercise? It would appear that they have deliberately waited until council tax payers’ money has been expended on the consultation, decisions have been taken and only then launched their campaign, certain in the knowledge that it will meet with political opposition. This isn’t assisting the public in engaging in dialogue with their council, this is storing up points to score in the next election.
By way of example, a Labour Party activist, Mr Morris, recently presented 3,000 signatures to the City Council against the proposals to reorganise The Level. This decision was taken after a lengthy consultation, which the public was thoroughly encouraged to participate in. 3,330 people did; 85% of them lived within 15 minutes’ walk of the The Level. Submissions could be made online and on paper, either by post or at various public buildings. Meetings were held. 55% of all the people who engaged with that process were in favour of the plans approved by Green Party councillor Pete West, whose responsibility the decision was.
In a startling proof of his principles, Mr West was personally against the plans he has approved. Grants are being applied for to pay for the reorganisation. Mr West thinks that the grant making bodies are unlikely to approve anything which doesn’t meet with majority public support. The Level has become somewhat dilapidated and is in need of renovation. The approved plan includes a proper sunken skate park as the centrepiece of the Level.
The Level is often said to be the most dangerous place in Brighton at night. I’ve slept there a few times myself but that isn’t proof of anything, of course. The existing skate park is rubbish and frequently overcrowded; we got less than half of what we campaigned for many years ago, after Labour decided to do ‘something for the youth’. Anything which encourages its use on a less scary basis has got to be good. Skating is excellent. Why do people look down on kids pursuing this sport? Healthy, outdoors, keeping people on the streets, keeping them safe. What’s not to like?
For our local skaters, heaven may be a half pipe but they deserve so much more. What with all that talk of religion locally recently, it is clearly time for a song!
Doubtless, the 3,000 signatories feel very strongly about the proposals. Perhaps they did participate in the consultation? Perhaps they didn’t?
The plain fact is that Mr Morris has simply waited until it was too late and then brought his petition. This isn’t helping the public, it’s helping himself (or his comrades) to present a case for the next election. He was previously a candidate in the local ward, St Peter’s and North Laine.