Home Page If you're voting,just be cautious what you wish for 20/09/13

Haverhill Poll
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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

Years ago, many may remember, you could look out of your window in Haverhill in the morning at certain seasons of the year, and if the weather was warm and close you would know before you drew breath that you were going to be greeted with the delightful aroma of chemical factory.


Times have changed now, the technology is better, and I can’t remember the last time I smelt in the town something emanating from a factory on the industrial estate. Now, the seasons are only marked aromatically by the twice-yearly spreading of chicken muck on the fields around the town.


But something similar is happening metaphorically at the moment. We know there is a council by-election in the offing and the moment we open our windows we can smell the unseemly odour of politics.


I can remember when a town council by-election passed by with hardly anyone even noticing the fact, and it seemed sensible for the taxpayer to save the cost – I believe it’s around £15,000 – of an election by having replacements co-opted in the relation of the current parties’ standings after the original election.


Now, however, there are new kids on the block, and they want to muscle in on this cosy set-up. Flushed with their success in the county council elections in May in the town, UKIP want to keep up the momentum by gaining a town council seat, so they have requested an election for the vacancy caused by the departure of a councillor who had been with them just a week.


Recently one St Edmundsbury borough councillor also defected to them and they think there is more success just around the corner. We’ll see.


The trouble with getting elected – especially as a sole representative of a party – is that you continually have to justify yourself by doing something. We have seen in the past where that can lead.


Councils are essentially team organisations. One person cannot speak for a council or act for a council. Somehow, some sort of agreement has to be reached and then everyone has to sign up to it, or make their dissent clear and public in a divisive and, usually, self-defeating manner.


We see all this at work every day in the Government coalition. Some sort of agreement or deal is thrashed out and then poor old Cleggy has to try to defend something he doesn’t really believe in and next minute Vince is out there knocking chunks out of the whole thing.


There is no such coalition at work in Haverhill Town Council. The views are often very divergent. There is a pretty left-wing element and there is a pretty right wing element. But, to see what some people say, you would think these were in collusion to exclude anyone else.


It is true that they have to work together and present a united front – indeed they often do over local issues because the Haverhill interest is clear and, to do them justice, both sides want the best for Haverhill.


If they didn’t work together everyone would jump on their case and slam them for squabbling all the time. Usually, once they start working together, they find the other side is made up of decent chaps and chapesses, all trying to do their best. It is not uncommon for the greatest divisions to exist within one party, rather than with the other side(s), as we also see at national level.


No one pretends the system is perfect. Churchill said democracy was the worst possible system of government except for all the other systems. But it delivers something that has, so far, fought Haverhill’s corner strongly on most occasions – if a little belatedly on Vision 2031.


Anyone who claims it is any more democratic to be elected by a turnout of 25 per cent of a single ward, than to be co-opted by the agreement of 15 people elected by the whole town is just deluding themselves.


But I don’t believe that the majority of Haverhill residents are dissatisfied with their town council, in the way that they probably are, if only anecdotally, with St Edmundsbury or Suffolk. But that, in itself, means little electorally.


In the early 2000s an in-depth study of Haverhill (one of many, but a particularly effective one) under the general heading of ‘Social Impact’ was carried out. It had a lot of enlightening things to say because the researchers really did speak to a vast number of people, rather than just gathering together a few focus groups and an online questionnaire as is the current fashion.


It identified how less than 30 per cent of people were satisfied with St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which, in those days was responsible for most of Haverhill’s services and infrastructure. Since then much of that responsibility has passed to Suffolk County Council or the private sector, with equally unsatisfactory results.


But it also showed a 78 per cent satisfaction with Haverhill Town Council which, as it happens, was almost unanimously Labour at the time. Six months later, at the election, held under the shadow of Mr Blair’s Iraq war, voters kicked most of them out and replaced them with members of the Haverhill Representative Alliance, and we know where that led.


That victory by the HRA was achieved by focusing on a couple of narrow local issues where the town council had little influence and not only blaming them but insinuating corruption, self-seeking and ineptitude as if they were uncovering Watergate.


I subscribe to no particular political persuasion and just hope for councillors who can understand the issues, work for Haverhill, and be prepared to say what they think without kowtowing to party allegiance.


But experience warns against anyone who tries to make out they should be voted in to clean up a useless or corrupt clique, rather than explaining how they will work with all the other councillors to make Haverhill a better place to live.

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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