Fringe Box



The Dragon Says: Out of Touch, Out of Reach, Out on Their Ear

Published on: 5 May, 2019
Updated on: 26 Apr, 2020

The election result in Guildford is first and foremost a good day for democracy. Change was needed. Guildford had become politically stale. Long-term one-party dominance, of whichever party, is unhealthy.

Behaviours creep in that are undemocratic. The electorate is taken for granted. Some politicians persuade themselves they are leaders with superior wisdom, that their feet are not made of the same clay as the rest of us. They forget they should be primarily representatives of the people and have a good sense of the majority view. They should be truly in touch.

And when public opinion is sought they should be within reach. But in the past four years they were not. No one could objectively look at the results of the consultation on the Local Plan and say it was properly listened to. It was not.

The veritable avalanche of 80,000 responses demonstrated the level of alarm over the Plan. Dismissing the views as NIMBY was not good enough. Our back-yard is our green environment. In these times, it deserves special care and attention.

When politicians become too removed, too unhearing, too self-righteous, they are bound to fail. The fact that this occurred nationally and locally at the same time was disastrous for the Conservatives, including those worried about their party’s course and policies. It was a perfect storm of anger and they were out on their ear.

But Guildford’s Conservatives didn’t leave without a parting shot. Squeezing through adoption of the widely unpopular Local Plan a week before voters could have their say in the ballot box was probably the clearest sign of how undemocratic the Conservative instincts were.

Even after the results from Thursday, they were still patting themselves on the back for perpetrating this. Angela Gunning, the Labour leader, joined in. Incredible.

Do not forget, in the final months and weeks of the previous administration came a shameful revelation.

If the “letter of support” for the Wisley Garden Village bid, passed off as official backing from Surrey County Council, had been written by GBC’s planning department that would be bad enough but it took a Freedom of Information investigation to reveal the glaring truth, that it really was written by agents of the property developers.

Those concerned, caught with one hand in this mire of dishonesty, contemptuously used the other to give two fingers to those few crying foul. Perhaps they thought they were untouchable. Well, now they’re well and truly touched.

And what did most opposition parties do with this golden opportunity, presented on a plate by The Dragon, to attack their political adversaries? Nothing. Have they not read that “For evil to triumph…”?

Other local media also shrugged their shoulders. It didn’t feature. “It’s just what goes on,” one “reporter” said behind the scenes. Of course, lots of bad things go on, crimes, poverty, disease. The SCC letter was not in that league, of course not, but we can’t just look to Heaven and ignore it, not if we call ourselves journalists. It’s a reporter’s job to report the truth.

But the new kids on the block, all those new councillors, need not feel smug. They too are human, they too will be tempted to keep unpopular things under wraps, cut corners, hear what they want to hear and ignore criticism.

If we are to see real, meaningful change in the way our local politics are conducted, in the very culture at Millmead, they must carefully read the Nolan Principles and stick to them even when the means might seem to justify the end.

And the role of some senior officers at GBC will continue to be important. With so many new councillors, the authority of the managing director and the monitoring officer can be enhanced if they can truly show that when push comes to shove, regardless of political pressure, they are on the side of truly impartial application of law and the rules, as the honest residents of Guildford fully expect.

A new page in our borough’s history has been turned. Let’s all be determined it will relate a better story.

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Responses to The Dragon Says: Out of Touch, Out of Reach, Out on Their Ear

  1. Wayne Smith Reply

    May 5, 2019 at 7:37 pm

    Excellent Opinion piece. Well said and well done on exposing the truth of the Wisley Garden Village bid!

  2. RWL Davies Reply

    May 6, 2019 at 7:02 am

    Excellent editorial and well done on exposing the contemptible behaviour of GBC over the “the Wisley letter”.

  3. Robert Shatwell Reply

    May 6, 2019 at 8:44 am

    This is perhaps the most accurate assessment of local politics in Surrey. Put a blue badge on a chimpanzee and Conservatives would vote for it. There is no room in local government for political policies.

    It is not only in Guildford that, for years, we have seen Conservatives band together and vote as one, much to the detriment of the residents. I am pleased to see that they have now had a good kick in the pants and lost control of many councils. Perhaps now the residents will be listened to; after all, it is those residents that pay the council and councillors.

    Unfortunately the Conservatives, in most cases, have just been replaced by another political party, the Liberal Democrats, who for years have sat on the fence so hard they cannot fall one way or the other.

    It is time that politics were removed from local government and residents voted for the person most likely to support them in a truly independent way.

    If you didn’t vote then you have no cause to moan if you don’t get what you want. In future get out and vote for the best person, not a political party.

    • Ben Paton Reply

      May 6, 2019 at 8:32 pm

      Spot on.

      And if the chimpanzee has a mind of its own they still wouldn’t select it in Guildford!

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 6, 2019 at 12:07 pm

    Brilliant reporting, and The Dragon deserves our thanks in helping to the undemocratic behaviour of the former leadership.

  5. David Roberts Reply

    May 6, 2019 at 2:19 pm

    As a priority, I would like to see the new Executive bring in outside, independent experts, such as Transparency International UK, to review the council’s codes of conduct and their enforcement via the council complaints procedure, the monitoring officer, the Standards Committee and so on. Their brief would be to ensure these are fully aligned with both the letter and the spirit of the (Nolan) Principles on Standards in Public Life, which are mandatory for councillors and officers alike, and with best practice in UK local government.

    Never again must we see what happened in the Juneja case or the use of the complaints procedure to persecute weaker councillor opponents (as happened to former Cllr David Reeve) or where the established rules on electoral “purdah” are flouted (as in the recent vote to approve the Local Plan).

    [Disclaimer: I have worked for TI(UK) in the past but no longer have any links to them. They are a charity, so their services are cheap.]

  6. Ben Paton Reply

    May 6, 2019 at 5:36 pm

    Council officers are supposed to be bound by the Nolan Principles too. But at least one was complicit in the SCC “letter of support” drafted by Savills who were acting for a property development company.

    Sadly the officers can’t be voted out of office.

    The longer quote from John Stuart Mill is:
    “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”

    Misgovernment by any other name would smell as rank.

  7. Michael Bruton Reply

    May 6, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    Many thanks to the fearless Guildford Dragon and the “Rotten Boroughs” column of Private Eye. Little or no thanks of course to those Tory MPs covering Waverley and Guildford Boroughs. So now, Tory Councillors have been defenestrated deservedly in Mole Valley, Guildford and SW Surrey. When will Tory MPs also show respect for how people feel about their environment?

  8. Colin and Annie Cross Reply

    May 8, 2019 at 7:36 pm

    The day after the notorious Local Plan vote and six days before the local elections, The Guildford Dragon published a letter from my wife and me hoping that the Guildford residents’ retribution at the ballot box would be swift.

    Thank you Guildford, you did not just answer the call, you yelled your response from the rooftops in every corner of this borough and took out the unrepentant Tories in a massacre.

    Colin Cross is the R4GV borough councillor for Lovelace (Ripley, Wisley and Ockham).

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