Tuesday, 1 May 2012

ONE MORE THING...

As the scruffy mack wearing US TV Detective Columbo would say, one more thing? - before we cast our votes on Thursday. Newport is not in good shape, the current incumbents have tried their best, but perhaps the budgetary hand that they were dealt by the departing (and exceptionally bitter about it) former Labour administration in 2008 may have proved too much to deal with in a mere four years.

Just one more thing?
Now I pull no punches I grew up in the 1980’s in a politicised home in a town dominated by a self-serving arrogant Labour machine. Newport (and plenty of other places) suffered during the Thatcher years, with the rundown of the old heavy and manufacturing industries and jobs losses. Logically, from a Labour point of view I should be a Labour voter and supporter (and probably an active one at that) but having seen them in action in my formative years in various elections - I would sooner go the dentist for a filling with no anaesthetic rather than vote Labour under any circumstances.

Labour in Newport lost power in the last county council elections (in 2004) due to a combination of Blair, incompetence, arrogance, mismanagement and poor judgement. You would not have needed to be a detective to pick up on the quiet glee inside the civic centre on the part of ordinary hard working council workers at the prospect of the arrogant (in some cases bullying) Labour councillors getting a right tattering prior to polling day in May 2008. Even the particularly unobservant might have gleaned a clue or two as to how the Labour councillors had behaved towards the council staff.

Now let’s be honest Labour in Newport has not liked being out of power one bit, if nothing else Labour in Newport over the last thirty years has largely been about just being there and thoroughly enjoying the trimmings. They had previously lost power in 1979, having regained it they ran the shop from 1981 until 2008, presiding over a very visible decline of the town.

It is easy to forget, especially with a Conservative government in Westminster, from 1997 until 2010 Labour was in power, and they ran the show in Cardiff from 1999 until 2007 – so co-operating with their colleagues in Cardiff and London they should have been able to sort things out in Newport. Labour in Newport were either incapable of developing the vision or arrogant enough to think that they did not need to do anything to retain control.

They were in charge for so long that they thought that they had a god given right to be there. All sorts of people joined the Labour machine, some literally to get their snouts in the trough like so many elected gadarene swine. Periodically anyone who looked like they could pose a potential threat would get an invite to join ‘Plenty of room for nationalists in the Welsh Labour Party’ my mate was told after he ran a good campaign a few years ago – similar stories can no doubt be told across much of the south of Wales.

Opposition candidates who got elected (in the 1980’s) found that Labour prevented them from playing an active part on council committees, some slight revenge perhaps for getting elected in the first place. The Labour in Newport party machine itself could be pretty cynical when it wanted to, throwing an all women short list into a seat where they knew they were about to get electorally exterminated in 2008 being a prime example.

Politics aside, part of the problem in Newport has been the lack of any real coherent long term development plan (beyond the Council’s UDP)and the development of out of town shopping centres combined with (for much of the time) a chronic lack of parking has helped to hammer the hell out of the town centre over the years. City status, which owed more to internal Labour politics than anything else, including finding a safe seat (Newport East) for Conservative defector Alan Howarth, amongst other things, along with the much heralded Ryder Cup , have brought few lasting benefits economic or otherwise.

The impression often given is that people are almost entirely disinterested with local politics; they could not care less, etc. Personally I don’t buy this, people are disinterested in and disillusioned with the process of local politics – which for so many years in Newport was dominated by a cynical self serving Labour machine.

I have often wondered exactly what Labour has delivered for the people of Newport to engender such blind loyalty in the last thirty years? Not a lot as far as I can work out. In most seats in my home town we have reached the point where in all honesty there is no need for an election at all – the Labour block vote, enhanced by First Past the Post, will deliver the seats.

Perhaps if we eliminate the safe seats entirely then elected councillors regardless of party will be forced to actually go out and earn the votes of their constituents to get elected – the dead wood will get voted out. First Past the Post is fundamentally undemocratic and unrepresentative, if we change it and use Single Transferable Vote (as is used in Scotland and Ireland) then perhaps we may reinvigorate local politics, and people’s interest and sort out Newport’s problems as part of process...

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