This week’s Advertiser had another batch of letters about the Craig Humphrey affair. One was in his favour, the rest were critical. By far the most revealing was that from Neil Sandison, who is a Lib Dem councillor for Eastlands. As well as being unhappy about the total lack of decent response to the public outcry at last week’s meeting, he had some points that leave me very, very concerned. Firstly, his claim that
…councillor call-in has now become a sick joke under Cllr Humphrey’s reign as Rugby hackney carriage drivers soon discovered…
Well, to be fair, the Tories dominate the council to the extent that overview and scrutiny are dependent upon how likely they are to follow the party line. It seems that in Rugby they are very tame and easily whipped, so the leadership can do whatever they like. The next part is of a far more important nature – about information that Cllr Sandison has received concerning
…reports directing councillors on decision-making bodies like planning to reconsider applications…
This could be far more serious. Development control issues (such as the determination of individual planning applications) are supposed to be absolutely apolitical and free from influence. I had worries last year over the application to redevelop the Cattle Market site that there had been some political pressure applied to the Tory rank-and-file ocuncillors. The Tories also seemed to be unafraid to bully councillors who stood up to them. If Cllr Sandison’s concerns reflect a trend toward pressure over planning applications, then this could be very murky indeed.
But the most stunning part to me was this:
…Cllr Humphrey has also suggested in a consultation with the Boundary Commission that we suspend next year’s local elections until 2012…
This is amazing. It show exactly how much the local Tories care about local democracy. Another letter referred to the fact that the next opportunity for local people to have their say would be May 2011. It appears that Craig Humphrey wants to snuff that out and continue to rule regardless of what local opinion might be.
This is not about whether Craig Humphrey is qualified for the job, it’s about what the intention is to use it for. Are we going to see opinion ridden over roughshod? Could we be in danger of seeing corruption in the planning process? Is our chance to have a direct say in who runs the council to be denied?
A change in management structure in itself is not particularly important, but the erosion of local democracy most definitely is, and the concentration of power towards a central figure is also something that needs to be monitored carefully. After all, power tends to corrupt.