Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Keeping Council

Much as I enjoyed being a councillor, the view from the other side of the public gallery is much more amusing.

The panicky U-turn by Labour over their proudly announced Park and Ride schemes seems to have also knocked on the head the University and Hospital Area Study which, in any case, I've always suspected was an excuse by the Highways department to roll out parking meters into residential areas.

However, after their one-way IDR, Rose Kiln Lane and Shinfield Road fiascoes Labour seems to have adopted a turkeys not voting for Christmas mentality so I suspect it will now be quietly shelved. As the strength of feeling around the Park and Rides showed, messing around with parking is a dangerous game in local politics.

That's so well understood that when I was asked about getting a new residents' parking scheme in Katesgrove, I was told by Highways that they wouldn't even consider going out to consultation unless I could prove more than 66% support from residents. Based on figures from when I was a councillor, the council has had nowhere near even a 50% response rate from residents in the university area let alone support, so the smart money after their climb down on the Park and Rides is they will scrap any changes.

Unless they really are so desperate for the cash to pay for their increased spending that they will introduce parking meters against residents wishes anyway.

But the most entertaining part of the meeting for the masses in the public gallery was not the U-tum. It was watching Jan Gavin land her group in it again. If only she had kept her mouth shut. Liking the sound of your own voice is dangerous if you have nothing to say.

An innocuous Lib Dem amendment to Labour's Programme asking them to make a commitment to not close any Libraries and Children's Centres looked to be being quietly buried with the usual tribal "foolish Lib Dems" put downs... until the Cabinet member with too much time on her hands decided to blurt out Labour's real plans.

It was like winding up a clockwork toy and letting it go. An angry "We are looking to rationalise", "Of course we can't guarantee not closing services", "We're looking at other ways to deliver" and "I'm not wedded to bricks and mortar" was as clear an indication as there could be without actually naming them that there is an asset stripping exercise going on which curiously didn't make it into Labour's Programme.

Labour's problem is that they have reinstated schemes that steal from the poor to give to the rich and lost the savings that were required to protect those services. Of course they can't guarantee them. They have cynically determined that making unnecessary cuts to these services can be blamed on the national government.

But a single failure to engage brain before mouth has undone any hope they had of keeping it quiet.

Once the foolish cabinet member with too much time on her hands had placed both her feet in her mouth, we saw furious back-peddling from Jo Lovelock shrieking slightly hysterically about Lib Dem 'scaremongering'. Well Jo, you could have squashed that on the spot by saying categorically that Labour would not close any Libraries or Children's Centres. You didn't. Simples.

I suspect that means Janet Gavin is going to have so spend the next Cabinet meeting sitting in the naughty chair now that Jon Hartley no longer occupies it.

[Update] It would appear from her own tweets that Cllr Gavin has fled the country to escape the wrath of her own party!

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