Home Page Not listening to people is the silliest part of the current silly season 29/08/14

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Matthew Hancock
Your Local MP

Hart of the Matter

The month of August is traditionally known in the media as the silly season, when all sorts of offbeat stories which would normally remain unreported suddenly spring into prominence to fill the gap left by an absence of real news.


Thus column inches – or megabytes – are devoted to a bifurcated carrot with a rude excrescence or a dog which can breakdance, mostly because everyone is on holiday, including the local criminals and councillors, so there are no incidents or meetings to report.


I presume that this is the reason why the main talking point this week, straining even the silly season to breaking point, is that political parties are to be banned from having a stall on the market for fear of offending potential shoppers.


On that basis there are plenty of other stalls which I would prefer to see banned, such as pet accessories which stink the place out, dodgy DVDs and toys and games which look as if they have fallen off the back of the proverbial lorry.


However, in the current fervid climate, I suppose it is always possible that some looney racists might want to set up their manifesto, so the thinking may be that this should be nipped in the bud – rather late, in the case of the BNP which seems to be losing ground now.


It would be interesting to see whether an Islamic fundamentalist stall would be considered as a political party, and if so, whether on that basis Christian missionaries would also be banned.


As always with any decision to ban something, the ramifications have not been thought through. It is, for example, quite okay now for political parties to set up a stall in the street on any other day than market days.


That, in itself, is a curious move, if the impetus behind the ban has come from potential shoppers being offended, because it rather implies that the market is the only place where people shop, and that actual shops don’t attract any potential purchasers.


Then there is the question of what is political and what is not. For example, when the recent petition against St Edmundsbury Borough Council axing cash which Haverhill Town Council had expected to be getting, indirectly from the Government, was launched with stands on the market, how far was that political?


It was a town council initiative, supported by all members cross-party, but it was set up by the Labour Party, which currently controls the town council. Therefore, you may say, it was an overtly political stall.


From that it follows that any stall set up by the town council must be political – as many claimed at the time of the battle to save the Crown Health Centre.


From that it must follow that all councils should be treated in the same way, so any stall set up by the Conservative-controlled borough council is equally political. Therefore the borough council has banned itself from its own markets.


Then there are such things as Suffolk County Council consultations over the town centre traffic flow. Suffolk County Council is still Conservative-controlled (just) so are these political statements?


If a different party were in charge at county hall it is almost certain that different ideas would be put forward for the town centre, so it could be argued that even the consultations which precede them have a political dimension.


St Edmundsbury is just finishing its latest consultation about next year’s budget. In effect it has been asking which services or facilities we think we could best do without in the pursuit of freezing council tax again in the age of austerity.


The consultation did not allow for residents to say that they would rather hang on to these services and facilities and pay a bit more council tax. If a different political persuasion were in power, it might well have included that option.


Therefore, is the latest budget consultation a political document and, if it is, would the borough council be able to have a stall on a market day to encourage people to respond to it?


I expect the borough would say that the criterion is that the stall should not overtly show party logos or literature, but I doubt if that would be difficult to circumvent, or that it would content those who are offended by party stalls.


During the coming months it is not impossible that there might be an effort to canvas support for some sort of scheme to do with the Old Corn Exchange. I think we all know where the impetus for that would come from, so is that, in itself, a political statement, even though it may not bear any colours or logo?


All we can do is refer the matter back to those who are offended by the party stalls, if any of them could be found to own up to it, and ask them how they would resolve the matter.


I suspect they would be entirely happy with stalls run by political parties with which they agreed, and totally opposed to stalls run by political parties with which they disagreed. In the end, we have to listen to all shades of opinion.


The dangers of prejudging issues and having closed minds are already awash within Haverhill at this moment, and could very well result in a seriously detrimental train of events over the next year or so. Any organisation or community which does not listen, and applies rules and bans indiscriminately and inflexibly is heading for its own destruction.

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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