Fringe Box



Letter: A Sad Day for Democracy

Published on: 2 Jul, 2014
Updated on: 2 Jul, 2014

democracyFrom Tony Edwards

Councillor Stephen Mansbridge wore a suitably solemn expression. Did his eyelids flicker for a fleeting moment, fighting back a tear? Just for a second, had we seen his manly lip quiver?

Emotions were running high but, somehow, the leader of the council managed to maintain his composure and summon the steely resolve to drop the bombshell news that many attending the full council meeting on 19 June were hoping never to hear, that England had lost to Uruguay.

He paused for a brief period of adjustment, after his feeble attempt at black humour, then moved quickly and purposefully to warn us of the “harsh reality” that a “no” vote on this eventful evening would mean a three- to four-year delay in formulating a Local Plan.

In that horrendous case, chaos would, it seemed, descend on Guildford: developers would have a free-for-all and the borough would be left defenceless. You could sense that nobody really believed it.

Although any semblance of democracy appeared to have been confiscated at the door prior to the meeting, there were murmurings of dissent from local tax-paying voters, quickly silenced. They’d been warned earlier to control themselves: no heckling, cat-calling, throwing empty cigarette packets, ice-cream cartons, that sort of thing. Just sit still and say nowt, or else… This was the domain of councillors; a sanctuary of decision-making in which we voters, it seemed, had no rightful place.

We’d previously seen a young lady, a student, probably still in her teens, explain how she didn’t want her birthplace to be transformed into a metropolis. She’d prefer to move out of the immediate area rather than take part in the wanton destruction of the green belt and everything she’d held dear as a child. No rolling back the green belt on her behalf, thank you very much.

A pack of male hyenas, masquerading as representatives of the people of Guildford, quickly rounded on her in an attempt to redress the balance, and neutralise her concerns. They sighed, shrugged, sneered and scoffed, the way despairing parents might treat a naughty child. Decency, chivalry and good manners, it seemed, had also been abandoned at the door.

A somewhat juvenile young chap seemed to think that his youth was relevant to the proceedings and confided that, like the hapless victim of the hyena attack, he too was a young person, so much younger than his fellow councillors seemed to be the implication. I recall that he’d said something similar at a previous council meeting. Perhaps he has a portrait in an attic somewhere.

The elected rulers of Guildford suspended their “normal rules” to allow Cllr Monica Juneja, responsible for leading the Local Plan, to speak for 10 minutes. She fiddled with her hair for a bit then complained bitterly about how badly she’d been treated. She’d received unpleasant emails and been arrested, with 10 police officers searching her home, and all because she was trying to do her job.

She then moved the motion without reference to the fact that some hasty changes had been swiftly made behind the scenes after WAG campaigners had confronted her with legal opinion from a top “silk” which made a complete nonsense of plans to build a “new town” at Wisley.

By then it was very close to midnight and any remaining signs of democracy, loitering at that front door, had already turned into a pumpkin so nothing more was said about it and we all went home. So much for local democracy.


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