Home Page A friendly start, but you never know where politics will lead 22/05/15

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

The new councils have begun grinding into action and the new councillors have managed to get their feet under the table at least once, so it won’t be long before we get some sense of the new dynamics which the electorate have created.

St Edmundsbury’s ruling elite looks largely unchanged, so it is unlikely we will see anything very dramatic from them. The majority is smaller but the opposition is dispersed, so one presumes it will be business as usual in Western Way.

Haverhill Town Council promises to be a little more interesting, even though its first meeting seemed determinedly friendly. Compared with five years ago when the floor of the arts centre stage was wallowing in the blood spilt on the night of the long knives, this was the epitome of amicability.

Earlier, at the Annual Town Meeting, at which there was a turnout of nearly a hundred residents (if you include the new council who were all still sitting among the members of the public) outgoing town mayor Roger Andre gave his report of the year and fielded public questions in his last duty before handing over the chain of office to the new mayor Cllr Betty McLatchey.

He then had to go and sit among the public, having not been elected at all. There were many tributes and thanks paid by him to those who had helped throughout the year and then, I am pleased to say, thanks to him paid by the new mayor.

Whatever you may think of him, of the old town council and of the Labour Party’s dismal showing nationally, no one can deny he has continued the fine tradition of Haverhill town mayors representing the town across the region, which is probably their most important function.

In cricket you should never judge the pitch until both sides have batted on it, and it will be interesting to see how well the new council compares with the old.

If anyone expects anything to change immediately and significantly then they will be disappointed. Any change will have to be effected gradually and, old cynic that I am, I somehow doubt there will even be that to show when the next election comes round.

A lot of criticism was levelled at the old council on account of members on both sides who failed to attend meetings. There should be 16 councillors, but I can’t remember all of them ever being there at one time, and mostly we were lucky to see eight or nine.

Of course, illness accounted for a lot of that. They were a pretty unlucky set of councillors in that regard, one way or another, and we must hope that the new ones will not be so undermined.

It was good to see quite a few younger faces among them, which should help. But the proof of the new members will be in their staying power.

Haverhill has been remarkably lucky over the years in having some incredibly committed and hard-working mayors and councillors, but it has also had its fair share of drop-outs.

When the shine of election and the excitement of power (however tiny) wear off, and members find they can’t achieve what they want to achieve and everywhere they turn they are frustrated by one or other tier of local government, that is when the real test will come.

We will see if anyone decides they are wasting their time, and suddenly finds a lot more calls on their time from work or family which prevent them attending. That is also when the strength of party loyalty will show, because this is, to all intents and purpose, a hung council.

The Conservatives are in power by virtue of having the most seats, but seven out of 16 is short of the nine needed for a majority. It may not be easy now to see Labour and UKIP supporting one another, but politics is a strange animal and, as Harold Macmillan famously said: "Events, dear boy, events”.

One never knows, particularly at this grass roots level, when a local issue may find people on the same side who have absolutely nothing in common philosophically or politically.

For a start, it only needs the six UKIP councillors to take a different view of an issue from the seven Conservatives, for a whole new can of worms to open up – and that is not at all impossible, because UKIP must fancy their chances at any by-election which may arise.

It is in their political interest to distance themselves from the Conservatives with that in mind. One by-election victory might give them parity, two would give them control – and they are good at getting their vote out in low turnouts.

Consequently, if a vacancy were to arise for any seat they do not currently hold they are unlikely to accept a move to co-opt from the same party, as was done in the past. They have been strong proponents of calling by-elections in recent times and will presumably continue to be so, despite the cost to the council tax payer.

So that alone may find them diverge from the Conservatives. But there could well be other issues. In recent times Conservative town councillors have been openly prepared to disagree with and even oppose decisions of the Conservative leadership of the borough and county councils.

It will be interesting to see whether they continue to be so now they have control of the town council. If they don’t, they are likely to be diverging from UKIP again.

But the most ironic thing of all is that if the Conservatives and UKIP split on party lines on a really vital issue for Haverhill, who will decide the issue? The three Labour councillors. Now there’s a thing! Not quite dead and buried after all.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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