31 July 2010

The democratic ideal isn't quite so..........

The recent brouhaha over District Councillor Tony Canvin's crass attempt to influence the consideration of his latest proposal to industrialise Badger's Cross derailed what was going to be the next entry in Muck&Brass. Having reread the draft I felt it well worth publication and here it is:

29th July 2010.
My brother is a pretty smart guy. He's always been smart, and capable, and bloody argumentative but underneath it all he's a smart guy. And we have argued over the years about 'democracy' and his view has always been along the lines of, 'if you don't like it, come up with something better', and I've never managed to come up with anything better because, at root, 'democracy' is a pretty good idea. My reading of 'democracy' is that 'we, the people' elect a smaller group of people to govern or regulate us and that government should be 'of the people, by the people and for the people'. The gist of it is that our elected representatives operate the mechanisms of government 'as if they were us' and with our interests and benefit in mind and foremost.

Stated like that, the 'democratic ideal' is a hard to beat proposition. So why have I been uncomfortable with it all of these years? Well, its only become apparent to me recently that its not the democratic ideal that is faulty but its the people who get elected who are the problem. Democracy would be great it it wasn't for our elected representatives and Somerton, over the last year or so, has been a perfect example of the failings of our democratic process.

The old Somerton Town Council wasn't a democratic forum, it was a mechanism through which specific aspects of local life could be influenced. The dominant voices on the Council were ex-Chair, Mr H E Keenan, and ex-Vice Chair, Mr A H Canvin. Of the two, Mr Canvin was the more significant and Mr Keenan was, for the most part, his gopher but, between the two of them, they managed to run local affairs in a manner which arguably excluded the wider local community.

Now, Mr Canvin is a very successful contractor and I celebrate his success but only if I can be sure that his success is entirely the result of his skill in business, carried out on a level playing field. And there is the problem. I didn't attend every Somerton Town Council meeting over the last two or three years but I attended enough meetings to see the manner in which Mr Canvin, at times through his gopher and at times on his own, managed the Town Council. For Mr Canvin there was no viewpoint more worthy than his own, no viewpoint more likely to be ignored than that of others.

So I suspect that Mr Canvin's resignation from Somerton Town Council wasn't greeted with universal joy, especially not by his colleagues at District and at County. When they had time to think about it they probably saw his resignation as a real challenge to the established order. And that 'established order' is one where the views of the electorate are rarely canvassed and consistently ignored. Because, from the viewpoint of 'vested interest', as represented by the majority of our elected representatives, positions and mechanisms of government are far too valuable to allow them to fall into the hands of the electorate.

So it will be interesting to see how the Area North Planning Committee deals with the latest planning application for Badger's Cross. This application will come to them with a recommendation from Somerton Town Council that it be refused. But the applicant will be their colleague, District Councillor Canvin so it will be very interesting to see which way they jump.

And be assured that I will be there and I will report their decision.

Till next time, I'm still Niall Connolly