Alan Dean

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Stansted North and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Learn more

Aloof or engaged?

by Alan Dean on 5 July, 2015

Two whole months will have passed in two days’ time since the general and local elections. I have been told it’s time I restarted my blog, so here goes.

What may turn out to me a more significant vote than those on May 7th takes place today in Greece. Will the Greek people reject a financial bailout plan (that appears no longer to be on the table) or vote “yes” to some sort of financial accommodation with its European neighbours and the IMF? The eventual outcome may affect the prosperity of all Europeans including the British, who try so often to remain aloof from The Continent.

The same aloofness and, some would say, meanness of spirit, is on display over the UK’s reaction to the thousands of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East arriving on the shores of Greece and Italy or impeding train and road transport at Channel crossings. We cannot remain aloof. We have to engage constructively in what are difficult and tragic circumstances from which we cannot claim immunity. I was please to read that Lib Dem prospective leader, Tim Farron, is calling for the UK to admit 60,000 refugees as part of an EU-wide humanitarian initiative.

What we are seeing across Europe is reduced collaboration as societies and nations divide between those who think it is their right to hang on to and even increase the wealth they previously had and those who are marginalised on minimum wages, selfish employment practices and increasingly unaffordable housing that the haves will no longer subsidize. Even the poorest now have to pay our highly regressive council tax or pay more to rent bedrooms the state thinks their don’t deserve, despite their having no alternative home on offer.

Since I last posted on this blog the Lib Dems were thrashed in May’s general election. We now have to rebuild the party. Recent council by-election results suggest it is already happening. The party deserved a kicking for misleading the public over tuition fees.The public’s forgiveness may be slow in returning in a big way, though it may be helped once people see what a Tory government unmoderated by the Lib Dems is really like. Yet we won’t climb the heights by simply saying we are nicer than the Tories and more responsible than Labour. The Lib Dems must stand for what is both right for a liberal society and deliverable from limited coffers. On balance, I think Norman Lamb will be the better leader towards that destination, whilst Tim Farron will be great at getting the message across to the public who have stopped listening to the national Lib Dems.

We were shafted in the general election by our coalition partners; but that is no surprise. The Conservatives cared more about their party and its re-election than they did about the unity of the United Kingdom. Their scare tactics about the Scottish Nationalists aimed at frightening English voters may well lead to the disintegration of the UK. I know English people who don’t care; just as they don’t care if Europe disintegrates – provided it doesn’t result in a return to 1914 or 1939! We can be very short sighted and strong on amnesia!

Meanwhile, close to home, I retained my Stansted council seat on May 7th with an all-time high vote and majority over my Tory rivals. The Lib Dem group on Uttlesford stands at six members, retaining 15% of the council’s seats, though down one on the pre-election total of seven to reflect the reduction in the number of seats from 44 to 39. I remain leader of the group. Geoffrey Sell, who regained his Stansted seat, and Janice Loughlin, who retained her Stort Valley seat, are my deputies.

Two months on, the district council has shown early signs of being more inclusive and open to other opinions that those of the former Conservative elite. After an absence of eight years, regular meetings of political group leaders have been reinstated. We now have two opposition groups comprising a significant 40% of the council. The Residents for Uttlesford group has more members than the Liberal Democrat group at nine members. I am back chairing the scrutiny committee after a break four years. We met in June to begin preparing a programme of work which is likely to focus more on how Uttlesford works and delivers services and less on the role and service delivery of external agencies such as the NHS than was the case during the term of the last council. Committee members from all parties seem engaged and up for the challenge.



4 Responses

  1. Keith says:

    We still have the same [person] chairing the local plan group, a man who stated he was proud of the draft plan that the inspector did not so much throw out as fire from a cannon. Rolfe has no background in planning, no expertise, and given his refusal to acknowledge the depth of failure of the previous draft plan, how can he reasonably address a fresh one? Not a word of apology about the waste of time and money from Rolfe and his apparatchiks, hardly an endorsement for the future. And what have they accomplished in the 7 months since the draft plan was thrown out? Nothing.

    As to the behaviour of Tory town councillors in Walden, one would expect better from kindergarten pupils. They have declined to engage in working groups, particularly on the town hall, preferring to disseminate untruths in the local media. Councillor Sadler has been very disingenuous in his letters to the press but perhaps residents should consider that Sadler ran the local Tory campaign which saw them lose 11 district councillors and control of Walden town council. While the Conservatives did well across the country, their results in Utttlesford, particularly in Walden, were pathetic. Indeed, if it hadn’t been for the skewing effect of the general election across the district, with flocks of Tory sheep coming out to vote for Sir Alan and failing to take local issues into account when voting locally, the Tory group would have been roundly defeated in Uttlesford and the district would now have a group of councillors intent on solving the mess bequeathed by two terms of Tory incompetence.

    Rolfe couldn’t run a bath, his officers are no better. The evidence of the past 8 years suggests that the Tories and the officers haven’t the faintest idea how to develop a viable local plan. The inspector gave no suggestion in his decision letter that he found any merit in the previous draft plan, the one that Rolfe declared pride in, the one that officers evidently considered fit for purpose. No apologies from them, no offers of resignation…..what does it take to get a fit response from these people?

    If May had delivered the correct local result we could have dismissed the incompetent officer team and moved on. It is a tragedy that we remain saddled with these people.

  2. Keith says:

    Self-satisfied, smug and under-qualified might be a more accurate description of the dear leader.

    It remains the case, that under his ‘leadership’ the draft local plan was ignominiously dismissed by the inspector and the Tory group took a hammering in the local elections in May.

    There is also the minor matter that the cabinet last year bullied the council into not defending a planning committee refusal on the Kier site in Walden. The legal advice proffered to support this pusillanimous and frankly poisonous betrayal of residents was pathetically inadequate. Certainly the inspector at the appeal was unconvinced by the arguments in favour of the application, possibly he understood the difference between a draft plan and an adopted plan. Needless to say, not a word of apology from the dear leader or his apparatchiks.

    One can only surmise what the fallout might be if the Fairfield appeal (similarly abandoned by the council on spurious legal grounds) might be. Silly me, there will be no fallout, the dear leader and his drones will act as if nothing untoward has taken place.

    Do Uttlesford residents actually deserve this quality of political representation?

  3. Keith says:

    Certain officers find criticism a little hard to take and endeavour to censor comment from residents. Some residents might take the view that certain officers should consider their position after the rejection of the draft local plan and a succession of appeal decisions that go contrary to officer recommendations.

    This country remains a democracy and we are perfectly entitled to challenge incompetence and demand that elected representatives and officers behave properly. The fact that Uttlesford does not have an adopted local plan since 2005 is an indictment of the members and the officers who have failed over the past 10 years to properly implement a new plan. Trying to muzzle critics is no substitute for doing the job you are paid for.

  4. Keith Mackman says:

    Interesting to note that there has been no response from the controlling group or their useful idiots. Does this indicate that Rolfe and his colleagues don’t read this blog or simply that they have no coherent response to criticism?

    I imagine they would struggle with some of the longer words, but surely responding to criticism would not be beyond the capacity of a controlling group?

    Bear in mind that this was the group that wasted over 8 years and £2million on the aborted draft local plan and suddenly their silence becomes eminently understandable.

    How do you formulate a way to tell residents ‘Hey guys, we just burned over £2million and squandered over 8 years but the local plan is in good hands….even if it is 10 years overdue’ Even hardcore Tories might be unpersuaded by that argument.

    If Rolfe had a shred of integrity he would resign. If certain officers had a shred of integrity the same would apply. Needless to say, these individuals have no shame and will cling to posts they have no right to. It is truly pitiful to witness the situation that UDC is currently in through the gross incompetence of officers and members.

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