Is there a better way? PETER STAVELEY, a UKIP candidate at next year’s Croydon Council elections, says his party would stage a public vote on important issues such as the incinerator
When the controversial proposal for an incinerator at Beddington was given planning permission by Sutton Council this week, it was clear was that there had been little official consultation and there was a lot of opposition to the proposal from residents, especially those in Croydon.
It was also interesting that in the end, the councillors involved in the decision voted together in party blocs, rather than follow their individual feelings or even the feelings of their ward constituents.
All UKIP councillors are expected to vote for the best interests of their constituents, not just toe the party line. UKIP does not prescribe what they will do and there is no “party whip”.
There are, though, some general principles which UKIP councillors follow which are:
- less regulation
- smaller (local) government
- retaining frontline services but making savings in administration and reducing bureaucracy
One of the complaints about the Beddington incinerator proposal was that voters did not have a say in the matter, let alone get a vote.
In this year’s UKIP manifesto for the county elections, the policy of local referenda was restated. Since that UKIP policy has existed for many years I am sure it will be in our manifesto for next year’s local elections in London’s boroughs, including Croydon.
The policy is that if there is a major decision to be made or there is a major planning and service provision, then those decisions should be put to a local vote. That way voters know that their wishes have been properly taken into consideration. The Beddington Lane incinerator is an example of the sort of case that would be classed as a major planning decision that would go to a local vote under UKIP.
I fully appreciate that holding a referendum could be expensive, so any sensible UKIP-run council would probably defer making those decisions (and holding a local referendum) until there is another election occurring.
Another UKIP policy is that if you, as a Council Tax-payer, do not like something that the council is doing (or not doing), then you could present a petition asking for a local referendum. The majority vote at that referendum would then be binding on the council, even if it means increasing the Council Tax or is directly against a manifesto commitment. However, the petition would have to have signatures from more than 5 per cent of the relevant electorate, so all those people must be on the electoral register that exists on the day of presentation. Naturally, the resulting ballot papers would include a short statement from each side, with the council outlining the effect of the referendum.
To give you some idea of how it would work, there are around 262,000 people on the electoral register for Croydon. So to obtain a local referendum you would need more than 13,000 signatures, all of whom are on the electoral register and all with their correct elector number. And obviously, only signing once. So the chances of a rogue petition being created is relatively small. However, it is possible that experience will show that the 5 per cent figure might need to be reviewed.
Fortunately UKIP has some experience on this referenda policy because it runs a town council in Cambridgeshire, in Ramsey, near Peterborough. I say UKIP has experience; actually it does not have that experience because in the years that it has been in control of that town council it has never had a petition presented that triggered a local referendum, even though that policy was in their local manifesto.
One of the reasons that a local referendum has never been triggered in Ramsey is because by not having a party whip, UKIP councillors are heavily encouraged to have regular contact with their constituents by whatever methods their constituents choose to use. So UKIP councillors are more likely to know what the voters want without the constituents having to go to the effort of creating a petition. Of course, in their consultations with their constituents, the councillors would point out the downsides of any decision.
Obviously, the local referenda policy could only be put in place if UKIP is in control of a council. It is unlikely that UKIP would control Croydon Council in 2014. But who knows what will happen in 2018?
UKIP councillors in Croydon would still want to communicate regularly with their constituents and vote according to what the majority of their constituents want, rather than following any diktats from even their group leader, let alone what the party leadership might say.
The UKIP groups on the county councils have now elected their group leader but it should be remembered that the UKIP group leader is only there to help the other councillors; he or she cannot dictate how each councillor should or must vote. Even if the group leader states how they are going to vote, then there will be no repercussions if a UKIP councillor votes against their leader. Indeed, it is encouraged if they are doing what their constituents want.
In Croydon, the result of having UKIP councillors would be that you could no longer accurately predict the voting merely by counting the number of councillors in the chamber who are wearing a virtual red or blue jersey. A debate could actually sway councillors to change their vote rather than the current situation of it being a talking shop with a totally predictable vote.
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