Fysh in a flap over democracy

What is it with the current Conservative government and democracy? Voter suppression via ID cards, switching from a progressive proportional representation voting system to the regressive first past the post system (FPTP) for mayoral elections. (And that’s because, as we have seen, under FPTP a party can get a stonking majority on a minority of the total votes cast.) Honestly, you’d think they didn’t want the citizens of this country to have a say in how their taxes are spent and their country is run!

Conservative MP for Yeovil Marcus Fysh appears to be a committed democracy-denier. We’ve been writing for a while about the suppression of democracy in Somerset and the battle over the proposed restructuring of the four district councils down to two or just one unitary body. ‘Honest Bob’ Jenrick, minister for local authorities amongst other briefs, got stuck in, as Mick Fletcher reported last month:

“In essence Jenrick had decided that whether the people of Somerset liked it or not they would move to a unitary form of local government. Furthermore, it would be he alone who would decide whether there should be one unitary authority as proposed by the current county council or two as proposed by the four districts. Finally, he had decided that the county council elections planned for May 2021 were inconveniently timed so they should be scrapped.

“Now it seems that Jenrick has done it againHe has written to the leaders of the district councils telling them in the strongest terms that it would be wrong for them to consult the local electorate on which unitary pattern they would prefer. He has issued a consultative document. For any other body to do so he says would risk ‘duplicating and detracting’ from it. 

The justification offered for seeking to doubly disenfranchise the electors of Somerset is extraordinary but very revealing of the colonial mindset within Whitehall. 

Jenrick has stated:

“My decision will not be made on the basis of which proposal has the most popular support as expressed simply through the number of representations received or the result of a poll.”

It’s an interesting view of democracy. “

Marcus Fysh took the unusual decision to ascribe his resistance to any referendum on the matter to concerns over Somerset residents’ inability to understand what they were being asked, writing:

He then went on to say:

It was all for nought, though, as all four district councils plan to ask the people of Somerset what they want, including Conservative-run Sedgemoor. The plan for a referendum is backed by another Conservative Somerset MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, who represents Bridgwater and West Somerset.

Well, it seems Mr Fysh was not finished with the issue.

On 13 May, the Liberal Democrats tweeted:

and then, today, South Somerset Councillor Oliver Patrick contributed this:

And it all kicked off:

Matthew Jollands’ observation seems a valid one on which to end the screenshots of the unseemly spat (which, suffice it to say, continued…), for there is something much more serious at stake here – honesty. Will the poll mean Yeovil won’t get much-needed regeneration? Will the poll cost a million pounds as Fysh asserted in his blog post of 29 April ?

We spoke to the leader of South Somerset District Council about Mr Fysh’s claims. Val Keitch said:

“Yeovil Refresh is not in jeopardy and the Cattle Market, which is privately-owned, was never part of the project in any case.
The cost of the poll is estimated to be in the region of £310,000 split four ways. South Somerset District Council will be contributing £90,000, reflecting its size.
We have a meeting scheduled with Marcus every month…a meeting which he has often missed. It was, perhaps, especially important that he meet with us this coming week, as scheduled, but he has cancelled. We would have welcomed the opportunity to take him through the numbers and allay his fears on the wider impact of the poll, so we are very disappointed that he won’t be there.”

On the face of it, Marcus Fysh needs to get his facts straight. Is he rattled because he knows something we don’t? Any connection to the report that, in Southend, a Conservative election leaflet for the recent council elections included a quote attributed to the Conservative MP for Southend West, Sir David Amess MP [since denied and claimed no permission given to use it…]:

“Government ministers are reluctant to go the extra mile for an opposition controlled local council”.

Or is it that he knows for certain that Jenrick is determined to ignore the poll results as he intimated in his letter to the district councils:

“My decision will not be made on the basis of which proposal has the most popular support as expressed simply through the number of representations received or the result of a poll.”

As Mick Fletcher wrote:

“In Somerset this is not a party-political issue. The four districts that dared to suggest a democratic approach to deciding how local government is structured include both Conservative and Liberal Democrat administrations. While Somerset County Council is Conservative-controlled, one of the sternest critics of its proposals is Ian Liddell-Grainger, Conservative MP for Bridgwater and West Somerset. This is not left versus right but local people versus an overbearing over-centralised and barely accountable state.”

Over to you, Mr Fysh.