12 November 2009

What do we need?

Its just over two weeks since the great march into obscurity and, guess what, the world hasn't come to an end. The sun still rises. The birds still sing. The buses seem to run just as they used to. In fact, nothing much has changed with the exception that, in Somerton, some members of the community are starting to think about community driven projects. A group has already formed to get the christmas lights up and the group is made up of true volunteers. These are members of the community who just want to do something for the community. At least one business on the trading estate has volunteered ALL of its staff for a day to help get the lights up. This is really encouraging and it makes me wonder if the old Town Council was actually holding Somerton back.

Hard on the heels of that thought came consideration of what we might expect from a new Town Council quickly followed by a question as to whether we need one at all. What does the Town Council do that is of absolute necessity? The obvious answer is that it does offer a forum for planning issues but, beyond that, what did it do that the community couldn't do for itself?

Looking back on all the meetings that I attended, aspects of local life that were discussed at the Town Council were often already being managed by local people and all that happened was that a report was made to the Town Council. The Brighter Somerton group was, essentially, members of the community who pursued that interest and it is hard to see what the Town Council added to their efforts. Ditto footpaths. Ditto trees. Ditto street lighting. But the perception that the old Town Council promoted was that somehow it was at the heart of these activities and the myth that the Town Council promoted was that, without it, these activities wouldn't take place. But the truth is quite the opposite.

And here we come to an issue that clearly has a resonance across the United Kingdom and beyond - do we need government and, if so, what level of government? The myth that our government apparatchiks promote is that our world would fall apart without government's direct and all pervasive influence on our lives. And looking at Somerton's old Town Council, that is a view that doesn't hold water.

Years ago my brother talked to me about this subject and he illustrated it with the example of 'enabling legislation' as opposed to 'disabling legislation'. A good example of 'enabling legislation' is the law, here in the UK, which requires us all to drive on the left hand side of the road. This is a bit of legislation that makes our lives better and safer by making sure that (in most cases) we can drive around a corner and not have a head-on smash. Another bit of 'enabling legislation' is the law which says that the red wire is the one to be avoided in anything electrical. That also keeps us safe and enables our lives.

But disabling legislation is much more pernicious like the law which effectively bans freedom of speech within a kilometer radius of the Houses of Parliament. (Wags suggest that it is effective within those structures as well.) Disabling legislation was also represented by the old Town Council's commitment to exclude the community from playing an effective part in the 'community hall' project (see the blog dated 28th November 2006).

With these thoughts in mind, its worth wondering what shape a new Town Council might take. Could it, for example, make itself a forum where the community can decide the priorities for the coming year. Could a new Town Council see its job as enabling the community to achieve its own goals and ambitions rather than being a vehicle for the egos of its members.

This would be a sea-change moment for Somerton and, given the nanny-state mentality that the old Town Council operated within, such a change will be hard for the community to exploit. But the fact is that Somerton stands on the edge of opportunity. Can we look forward to the same-old same-old or will a new Town Council to do everything in its power to put the community centre-stage. Will the community of Somerton get the chance to find out what it wants to be rather than being told what to be by others.

Till next time, may your God walk hand in hand with mine.