Our democracy is failing us, we live in an age where the “first past the post” electoral system allows a party representing a minority to hold all the power in society - both at Westminster and locally. In Tonbridge & Malling we have seen our Council defy public opinion and commit to selling off council assets, including the open space at River Lawn, Tonbridge, despite a survey showing only 4% agreed with its sale and development as apartments.
So who is making these decisions? Well, incredibly, only six Cabinet members are effectively running our council. Just 4% of those surveyed thought that the Cabinet should have the final say on the Council’s business, yet there are no plans to change this.
If you think that is bad for Tonbridge, consider the fact that only two are from the town and they share the same surname. This concentration of power demeans the role of ordinary councillors, this mismatch is reflected in their allowances. Ordinary councillors have seen their payments shrink, while the Leader of the Council and his deputy awarded themselves a £2,000 and £15,000 increase respectively only last year. The cabinet system, introduced by the Blair government along with metropolitan mayors, allows the centralisation of power in the hands of a few.
The Green Party want this system reversed and a committee system reintroduced to put power back into the hands of ordinary councillors, as has happened elsewhere. 81% taking part in the survey wanted to see a Tonbridge Town Council established to deliver local solutions from people living here. Most importantly we want to see new faces in the council chamber to fight our corner. All councillors representing the town at TMBC and KCC are Conservatives, they are forced to follow the party line or they will be deselected instead of representing the best interests of their residents.
Our borough is effectively a one-party state with 48 Conservative councillors, four Liberal Democrats and two independent councillors, representing Borough Green. How many residents can name their local councillors? Most have little visibility in the community. We want new, passionate independent voices to emerge next May to force a change of direction at Kings Hill.
We want an end to the secrecy which shrouds the business of the council, too many minutes are obscured by unnecessary censorship in the guise of “commercial confidentiality”. At the moment, sensible voices, offering practical cost-effective alternatives, are left unheard outside the council chamber. The only way we can influence the long-term direction of our community is to be around the table.
Mark Hood, vice chair, Tonbridge & Malling Green Party
This column first appeared in the Times of Tonbridge 12th December 2018