Friday, November 23, 2018

Thoughts from a Parish Council... how green is our valley?

And so, my reign of terror first term as Chair of Creeting St Peter Parish Council continues into its first winter. Or rather, as I suggested to an old colleague, I rule with a rod of rhubarb, rather than of iron.

I took part in our first village litter pick, organised by the Village Wildlife Group, which became an opportunity to swap war stories with the Chair of the Parochial Church Council, Alice. And whilst some litter was picked - there wasn’t too much, I was pleased to see - it was a useful opportunity to gain a better idea of the issues faced by small parishes in terms of finance and organisation. The Church of England does remind me a bit of the Liberal Democrats, in that it isn’t always easy to keep the show on the road, but the rewards when things go well make it feel worthwhile.

And we have a planning issue, in that the Parish’s only ‘heavy industry’ - a concrete products plant - has applied for a temporary permission to park trucks on a part of its site. The problem is that it has traditionally taken a ‘relaxed’ view of planning conditions and tended to ‘create facts on the ground’, much to the irritation of nearby residents. Light pollution from its cranes, vehicle movements and production activities outside the hours permitted, all of this causes a disturbance to people who should otherwise have a reasonable expectaion of good neighbourliness.

Council considered the application thoughtfully, with the benefit of some wise advise from our District Councillor. We clearly can’t stop them from operating altogether, and some of our concerns are a matter for the County Highways Team, but we do feel that the District Council can, and should, do more in terms of enforcement of the planning conditions they themselves set.

The rest of the business ran with enviable smoothness, and we were done and dusted in just about an hour. You might fault aspects of my work as Chair, but by God do we get through the business efficiently.

I enjoy Parish Council. It isn’t big, or particularly innovative, or exciting, but my colleagues and I, ably supported by Jennie, our Clerk, have made some small, but positive changes, and we are staunch guardians of our village infrastructure. We watch over footpaths, we plan for the future, we engage with the world around us. It is rather satisfying, and the sense of putting something back into our community is important to us.

We’ve got a draft budget to dwell upon over the next two months, and with our newly trained Clerk, there are some organisational things to do that would be helpful. That probably means that I need to take some time off to clear my head... 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

ALDE Party Congress 2018 - “ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas...”

Jacques Brel, one of the great Belgian performers, sang of his sense of despair and loss at the end of a relationship, of the desperation with which men would try to resuscitate a dying romance they had destroyed by their own failures. And, whilst our relationship with Europe is in danger of reaching a depressing end through the failures of others, the sense of despair and loss is not dissimilar for some of us.

And so, at the end of an ALDE Party Congress which saw the adoption of a manifesto for European Parliamentary elections we probably won’t be fighting, and the creation of a leadership team for a campaign that will pass us by, what have we learned?

  1. Europe, and even our liberal colleagues, are preparing to move on without us. Yes, they are sympathetic to our own desire to stay and engage, but there are some who, to be blunt, would rather have Brexit just happen than allow a protracted process and the resultant instability to distract from the serious business of reforming Europe, its economy and its institutions. We are pitied as much as we are respected for our history and our contribution in years past.
  2. ALDE is torn between those who are proud to be liberals and those who see the advantages of using words like “progressive” and “centrist”, the latter looking to build a bigger tent, a more effective (or powerful) political gathering, bringing in the likes of En Marche. That tension expresses itself as much through strategic considerations as opposed to policy ones - any pan-European manifesto is inevitably drafted as to allow a degree of designed flexibility of interpretation.
  3. The balance of power in the ALDE Party is shifting eastwards and southwards, with Bureau members now from Spain, Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. There are Liberal Prime Minsters in Estonia, Finland and Slovenia too, and Liberal Commissioners from Slovenia, Estonia and the Czech Republic. The new Europe means a new ALDE Party.
  4. The apparent current weakness of the two historically powerful blocs in European politics - the Socialists and the Christian Democrats - offers the potential to change the dynamics of the Parliament, as both blocs lose support to the extremes at one end and, in moving to retain those voters, to the Greens and Liberals from their more moderate supporters. That leads to the emergence of co-operation between groups whose policy platforms have sufficient overlap.

The potential, both for growth of influence, and for a blurring of philosophy, is there, and in years gone by, Liberal Democrat’s would have been at the heart of the debate. That, sadly, is no longer the case.

And, if Brexit goes ahead, we will lose our right to vote or speak on future manifestos, or to vote for Spitzenkandidaten, leaving us amongst the Moldovans and Armenians in terms of status if not, perhaps, in terms of influence. It will not be the same, and the transition may be an uncomfortable one.

Ne me quitte pas, ALDE Party, ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas...