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Opinion: Does President Mansbridge Need a Hotline?

Published on: 27 Jun, 2013
Updated on: 27 Jun, 2013

by Martin Giles

US_Presidential_hotlineIn 1962 the world probably came closer to a nuclear Armageddon than at any time in history. The USA, worried about the installation of nuclear weapons in Cuba (they could hardly miss from there), mounted a naval blockade against Russia.

As a six-year-old I can remember my grandfather saying that   we would, probably, not survive the night. We would all be blown up!

This seemed quite unfair. I did not remember doing anything to upset anyone much on the international front. So far I had only been to the Isle of Wight. So I went home to complain to my mother.

She said Grandad always exaggerated. He had been the same during the Blitz. I was slightly relieved but then remembered that actually, by all accounts, thousands of people had been killed during the Blitz. Mum went on to say that anyway, if anything did happen, we would all be together. This was not so re-assuring.

I decided action was required and concluded that it would be best to sleep under the covers that night. Seemed to do the trick. Next morning everything looked remarkably the same.

Opinion Logo 2It all blew over and I returned to worrying more about whether I would get the train set I was hoping for, for my birthday which, it now seemed, I was still going to be alive to see. But the Americans and Russians were still worrying about the crisis.

It had been a close call. There were lessons to learn. Communications had proved to be inadequate. According to Wikipedia: “The tense negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union, during which the use of nuclear weapons was not ruled out, pointed out the necessity of a quick, clear and direct communication between Washington and Moscow. As a result, a direct telephone link between the leaders of the two countries was established.”

Yes but what has all this got to do with Guildford, I hear you say. Well, last week a similar thing happened here. Although, to be fair, despite our leader’s military background, no nukes were involved. At least I don’t think so. There are still quite a surprising amount of secrets in our supposedly “open and transparent” council.

President Mansbridge (aka the Council Leader) received notification from Premier Rigg (aka Chairman of the Guildford Vision Group) that the planning documents the Executive were intending to approve might not be tickety boo on the the legality front.

This caused alarm and despondency in Millmeadland. The last time the Vision Group had done this it led to all kinds of trouble: last minute withdrawal of documents, cancelled agenda items at an Executive meeting, and red faces all round. It also proved to be the catalyst that caused President Mansbridge to mount his leadership coup.

So the President called for some more lawyers. They opined that everything was actually fine, legally. Angry that this appeared to be another attempt at ‘obstruction’ he gave the GVG short shrift at the meeting and then, losing the plot slightly, compared their influence over the town to the rule of terror imposed by the IRA.

In the Republic of Visionia there was some bemusement. ‘We only wanted to help,’ they said. ‘It was not meant to be a challenge.’ A subsequent phone-call between the two great leaders patched things up. Sort of.

So, almost exactly fifty years after the post Cuban crisis hotline installation, perhaps another one is required between Milmead and Vision Group HQ? Or, as we are all based here in Guildford, why not actually meet face to face when tension increases?

Even today, in our communication sodden, world there are times when you really need to look into someone’s eyes, see when they blink, look away or start fidgeting, and be able to know when they are joking and when they are being deadly serious.

All parties want a good plan for Guildford to emerge. No one thinks things should just be left as they are. Of course, none of us will get exactly what we want, that’s the nature of things, and we can disagree with people we still consider to be thoroughly decent, or at least decent enough.

So come on, get the communications in order please, on both sides. The price of failure is not ‘mutually assured destruction’, just more delay and pointless argument instead of meaningful debate, progress and action.

Historical note extracted from Wikipedia: “The “hotline”, as it would come to be known, was established following an agreement on June 20, 1963, by the signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communications Line” in Geneva, Switzerland, by representatives of the Soviet Union and the United States at the Eighteen-Nation Disarmament Committee, after the events of the Cuban Missile Crisis made it clear that reliable, direct communications between the two nuclear powers were a necessity.

“During the crisis, it took the United States nearly twelve hours to receive and decode Nikita Khrushchev’s 3,000-word initial settlement message – a dangerously long time in the chronology of nuclear brinkmanship. By the time the U.S. had drafted a reply, a tougher message from Moscow had been received demanding that U.S. missiles be removed from Turkey. White House advisers at the time thought that the crisis could have been more quickly resolved and easily averted if communication had been faster.”

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test 2 Responses to Opinion: Does President Mansbridge Need a Hotline?

  1. Julian Lyon Reply

    June 27, 2013 at 10:12 am

    I am a member of the GVG Steering Group and I take great personal exception to two comparisons of GVG to terrorists or a nuclear cold war state – both threatening cataclysmic violence against innocent civilians in a quest for a political ideology.

    It is not a question of shouting loudest or claiming ‘we know best’, it is about engaging in public debate in a productive manner, working within the provisions and principles of Localism and calling for high standards of good governance. It is about encouraging concerned residents to speak out and to use their talents to help build a long run future for our delightful town.

    GVG is wholly and solely engaged in seeking to resolve longstanding issues in Guildford
    – a broken transportation system requiring ambitious redesign; a poor pedestrian environment between the town, the river, the station, and the university and Cathedral;

    – insufficient and inadequate housing that key workers and our young people can afford (not just social housing but mainstream residential accommodation) in or near the town centre and a substantial apparent shortfall in 5yr housing supply which puts our gardens and green belt at risk from developers;

    – proper public engagement in all matters that affect the way the town is regenerated (matters such as what type of development? where such development should be? how much development? how to access such development? etc)

    It has to be said that many councillors say they have similar objectives (notwithstanding they may misunderstand GVG). It should also be said that there IS regular dialogue between GVG and GBC’s Council Leader, Stephen Mansbridge – always on a pleasant and constructive basis – and equally with the Lead Member for the Town Centre, Cllr Palmer.

    Things have plainly changed since Cllr Mansbridge took over the leadership from Cllr Rooth.

    My main concern is to help councillors ensure that the Officers are supporting the fully open and transparent process necessary to bring the weight of support, aspiration and imagination of all Guildford’s residents into a full community engagement.

    The ironic concept that a Statement of Community Involvement can be freely amended without recourse to the community is a step too far as it sets the tone for the Local Plan consultation and at best fails to follow best-in-class practices and, at worst may be open to challenge when the Local Plan comes before the planning inspector before adoption.

    This does not indicate a scenario of terrorism or nuclear threats. This is a group of people with wide experience and no vested interests seeking to improve democracy in town planning at this most crucial once-in-a-generation time for Guildford.

  2. Paul Hart Reply

    June 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Why don’t both parties discuss their differences over a pint?

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