Punch and Judy

It’s now a couple of weeks since my letter about the printing of endless letters from our local politicians appeared in our local paper, so I thought I’d just look at what has happened since.

Firstly, I haven’t heard anything from any of the politicians involved in the letter writing, not even the one who represents my ward. The two I directly named have also not responded through the letters page of the paper, indeed we actually had one week last week with no letters from local politicians in the paper at all! Having said that, on the front page of last weeks paper was a quite amusing cartoon with two of the people involved playing table tennis…

However, it was a brief restbite, as this week, one of the letter writers, the leader of the current administration has come back with a letter on a different topic, in response to a letter that a resident in Woodley wrote last week. Not that it makes much difference mind you, the structure is much the same as the letters on previous topics.

He starts off justifying the letter by saying that he assumes the letter writer is a new resident, and therefore unaware of what has happened recently. This allows him to lead in to an explanation as to how it’s not down to the current Conservative administration, and is entirely due to the hopeless Liberal Democrat administration that was in charge when the Conservatives lost control for two years between 2000 and 2002. Essentially it’s either them, the current Labour government, or an unelected quango that’s to blame for anything around here it seems. The letter as always finishes off with a final dig at the Liberal Democrats.

The Liberal Democrat response, that I’m sure will appear next week, will be much the same – just replace ‘Previous Liberal Democrat Administration’ with ‘Current Conservative Administration’, change the final dig to be at the Conservatives and you get the general idea. So to some extent the local politicians haven’t really taken the hint, to which I’m not overly surprised.

As for comment from other people, most interesting was someone at Church who asked me whether the letter in the paper was from me, and when I said yes, congratulated me, and said that he agreed wholeheartedly with what I had said. Having chatted on the subject with him a bit more, we seemed generally in agreement over how local politics should work.

From my point of view the fundamental thing about local politics is that you have pretty limited power, and much of what goes on is limited or driven from London. For example, although local tax rates are set locally, a large proportion of the council budget actually comes as a block grant from, and at a level set by the government. Indeed although there is some flexibility, the government even has powers to cap the tax rate set by a council. The housing issue is again something over which, in reality the local council have little control, as this is a national policy issue – housing numbers being set by the government. For all the fuss that is being made currently, the new houses will come, the only decision being where they go. It is interesting to note that in the current debate the Conservative administration have made much of blaming the Liberal Democrats for the numbers, however they say little about being able to reduce the numbers. In fact, had things been different and the Conservatives had held the council at the time, I’m sure that the numbers would be just the same. Again, even if our local council planning department refuses permission for building, a government department can reverse the decision. The fact is that we are in a location that has good transport links to London, more demand for housing than availability, and some significant areas of land that could be used for building. All the local council can do is to try and get the new houses in as acceptable form as possible.

Ultimately, the local council is about boring but essential things like collecting the rubbish, cutting the grass and fixing the streetlights, which is why there is even more of a disinterest in local politics than at a national level. If anything, when people do vote in their local elections, unless there is a high profile local issue, they are voting based on national politics. So whilst their new leader may be calling for the end of Punch and Judy politics I suspect on the ground in Wokingham that won’t happen, and we’ll carry on with the Punch and Judy letter writing in the local paper, over subjects that they have little control. Oh, and on the subject of things that they should be worrying about, the streetlights around here still don’t work properly…

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