17 October 2009

Democracy works - sometimes.

We take democracy and the democratic process for granted and its only when it is tested that we find out whether it works or not. In the recent election for the vacancy on Somerton Town Council we saw the democratic process in action and we saw it work. Democracy functioned and delivered a rebuke to the vested interests in Somerton, voting 968 votes to 236 votes in favour of 'change'. But in other areas, the democratic process remains embattled.

When the democratic process is tested, we also find out about the obstructions placed in the way of democracy, best illustrated in Burma where we see the forces of authoritarianism doing their best to silence Aung San Suu Kyi. But, and maybe surprisingly, the forces of authoritarianism are active in Somerton, albeit in a rather less obvious manner.

As most people know by now, Tony Canvin (aka Cllr Tony Canvin) has officially revealed his latest money-making scheme which is to get planning consent for an amenity site located at Badger's Cross. Tony's cronies on the Town Council were dead set to give this application their approval without any form of public discussion or consultation but, inconveniently, some locals found out about the proposal and caused a real ruckus at the meeting on 13th October. The result was that Tiny Tony instructed his Town Council to defer consideration of the application in order to allow him time to organise a 'consultation' with the public.

In this brief breathing space, those pesky residents (also known as Council Tax payers and voters) had the time to organise a meeting of their own. To publicise the meeting, they made up A4 flyers and set out to distribute them throughout Somerton. But then they ran up against a real problem - many shopkeepers wouldn't put the notices up and the reason given was that they didn't want to get involved for fear of attracting the Tiny One's wrath.

So now its reasonable to ask, "How can the democratic process work in Somerton when the Town Council is influenced by one individual (Mr/Cllr Canvin) who has business interests so extensive that legitimate opposition to those interests is stifled?" The answer is simple. It can't. Unless, that is, it is supported and enabled by the other councillors who are elected, as Mr Canvin is, to represent the electorate. Sadly, Somerton's Town Councillors don't do their job and, as a result, vested interest, as represented by Mr Canvin, gets away with murder.

Of course there is one other person who deserves a mention in this equation and that is Somerton's Town Clerk. The position of Town Clerk carries a range of responsibilities and one of these is to make sure that the Register of Member's Interests is accurate. Were the Register accurate, the voters and Council Tax payers might be better able to recognise and name the conflicts of interest that bedevil Somerton Town Council and defend themselves against them. Why, then, is the Town Clerk unable to execute this aspect of his job? Its certainly not because he isn't paid enough.

The recent election showed that democracy can function in Somerton and Somerton Town Council's unelected councillors showed their interest in the process by being noticeably absent from the poll, the count and the announcement of the result. Will they remain as invisible when Mr/Cllr Canvin tells them to vote for his latest scheme? Unfortunately all evidence suggests that they will turn out in force to make sure that vested interest overcomes democracy.

See you at the barricades.