Sunday, December 08, 2013

Shut that Door

Is Europe 'Off Limits' for Debate?
I see that even Laura Sandys has now expressed her 'disappointment' that at Thursday's Council meeting, Labour blocked any debate on Europe and a future referendum on membership.

On her Facebook page, the Thanet South MP writes: "I am extremely disappointed that Thanet’s Labour Councillors, including Parliamentary Candidate for South Thanet Will Scobie, have voted to block a council debate on the EU Referendum. Thanet residents deserve a choice on the EU. Not only have Labour Councillors made clear that they are absolutely against giving them that choice, they won't even allow an open and democratic debate on the issue."

Earlier, the Conservatives had issued a press release that expressed concern that Clive Hart's Labour administration had "Dismissed  discussion on Europe as a ‘stunt’, the Labour Party, whose policy is to not allow the people of Britain a referendum on Europe, denied Thanet’s elected members their chance to debate this issue of huge public interest."

Why the fuss? Thanet is unusually polarised over the European question at the moment. The county elections this year showed very clearly, through electing UKIP councillors across the island, that the EU was a powerful  factor shaping people's opinions and yet, as Laura Sandys comments, the single surviving Labour county councillor and prospective parliamentary candidate for South Thanet, voted a firm "No" to any debate, in a recorded vote on Thursday evening, supported by all his Labour colleagues.

I say 'All' but there was a brief moment of  theatre, when young Scobie's partner, Jodie Hibbert's name was called to vote on Julie Marsen's motion of a debate on support for a European referendum or not. "Yes" she said in a firm voice. in quite possibly the first sound we have heard from her in Council since she was elected to my own ward of Westgate.

This caused a brief uproar on the Labour side of the chamber as councillors realised what she had done, as you will soon be able to enjoy from the video of the meeting. Moments later, having realised her awful mistake and having turned several shades of pink, she changed her vote to a more falsetto 'No'  causing a ripple of amusement on the Conservative side and a request to the Chair that only her first vote be recorded.

It was not to be, despite Cllr Hibert's brief loss of concentration. Labour narrowly won the vote and as I wrote in my last entry, Europe is firmly off limits for any discussion, as long as we have a Labour administration in Thanet.

This of course leaves a large purple and yellow striped elephant sitting firmly in the centre of Thanet politics, openly visible, to everyone it seems but the Labour group. The reason of course is that Ed Miliband's Westminster policy, like that of the LibDems, is one of liberal immigration, closer ties with Europe and greater political integration with Brussels, quite the opposite in fact of what an increasingly larger proportion of the public, here in Thanet and elsewhere want.

Here in Thanet, we simply cannot avoid the discussion of migration, regardless of the fascist jibes thrown at local politicians who try. We know, demographically, what is happening locally, we know where it is happening and from the passing remarks of a senior police officer in the Council chamber on Thursday, we expect our shrinking local authority resources to be further strained in the New Year. This is no different to the experience of Hastings or Dover or many other equally struggling authorities around the country. If we can't discuss any part of this existing and impending challenge in the Council chamber, simply because it's politically incorrect, then where does this leave us after January, once the immigration rules have been further relaxed for the new accession states?

The feelings at Westminster on this subject are equally strong. Last night, Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi commented on remarks made by James Morris a key member of Ed Miliband's strategy unit‘This shows the contempt Labour and Ed Miliband have for the public. They don’t want to hear people’s views about immigration. 'Instead they want to censor and shut down any sensible and rational debate on an extremely important subject.'

With all this in mind, I would value my reader's opinions. Leaving the primary subject of a future EU referendum aside, should the rapidly changing demographic nature of parts of Thanet and associated financial and social pressures, be a non-subject for discussion or should we have been allowed to debate this and the broader pressing issues, all very much relating to a growing public interest in renegotiating the terms of UK membership with Brussels?

You tell me?


Barry James said...

Michelle Fenner in reply to Julie's motion said the chamber was not the place to debate National Politics. I say she is a hypocrite as Labour have twice forced debates on National Politics. Firstly on Gay marriage and secondly on the spare room subsidy.
This is "don't do as I do, but do as I say"

Bemused of Birchington said...

When we had a referendum in the early 1970s I was voting for a free trade area, nothing else, and I am sure that that's what most people thought. I am against closer political integration and firmly believe that the UK, including Scotland, should be solely responsible for all things political within its own borders.

Anonymous said...

jodie hibbert sounds like a drip. how does he get money to pay his rent, who is his landlord

William Epps said...

It has long been a problem in this country that debate on Europe gets linked to immigration, whereupon the race card is promptly used to trump discussion. No sensible country would close the door to immigrants and Britain for centuries has been a nation that has absorbed many, provided asylum to others and become a better place in consequence. What is vital though is to retain the right to choose our immigrants and control the numbers. The EU denies us that right.

The debate goes on to the excessive regulation pouring out of Brussels, the increasing interference in sovereign matters and the subjugation of our courts to the extent that the rights of criminal migrants surmount those of UK residents.

As an individual I demand the right to have a say on the future of my country and I feel that the next election may well come down to this almost as a single issue. The BBC, of course, may have other ideas.

Duncan Smithson said...

Perceived negative migration from Europe is a massive issue for many in Thanet. They see it in their daily lives. School places become more limited. Doctors surgeries fill up. Jobs - especially the lower paid - are harder to find. Rightly or wrongly, many in Thanet look at EU migrants as the reason for these issues.

The trouble is, its an emotive issue and discussions can quickly get hi-jacked by those that feel you shouldn't live in Thanet unless your family has lived here since the 19th Century. It gets tribal - very quickly.

Personally, I dont see this as a tribal issue. I welcome multiculturalism but I think we need to restrict movement a little more. This is a national issue but it's also a very local issue. Anyone with a decent social media profile will see the status updates. Its an issue that many want to discuss.

It's a shame that the Council Chambers were not a place for this discussion because it could be the most "intellectual" discussion in Thanet.

By denying this discussion in the Chambers, it will be heard louder and louder in the pubs, cafés, bus stops and workplaces around the Isle. A Chamber discussion could have steered this discussion away from the extremes and satisfied a number of voices on the Isle.

An intellectual debate needs to be had on this issue, free of discrimination and hate. Its a shame this didnt take place in the chambers. Perhaps it could be one of the topics for the proposed Conservative 'Road show' that Bob is proposing. Because people want to discuss it.

Simon Moores said...

Duncan, I think you've summed this up pretty well. To achieve the island-wide regeneration we so desperately we also require a sensible social balance in order to stimulate the local economy towards recovery and provide opportunity for all, regardless of where they come from.

Thanet, as you will see from each and every problem statistic from domestic violence, to cancer-related illness, is badly imbalanced.

It's been this way for too long, the drift is in the wrong direction. If you can't work, you can't pay taxes or buy goods from the shops and you can see this reflected in Margate High Street as the benefits heavy local businesses and shops with the exception of payday loan providers and accident chasing lawyers.

The Turner effect represents a powerful effort in changing this but I don't believe its visible economic stimulus is strong enough to resist the local gravitational effect caused by well-entrenched pockets of deprivation.

I think we all understand very well the scale and nature of the problem we face but we simply can't avoid discussing certain topics simply because some ideologues regard them as politically incorrect.

Ian Driver said...

It is rare for me to post on your site Simon and we probably disagree on most things. But I believe that the Thanet Council ruling Labour arrogantly disregarded the democratic rights of the people of Thanet to have their Council discuss an issue which is impacting (good or bad) on their lives. The Council's Constitution makes it clear that any issues affecting the lives of the people of the district can and should be discussed by the Council. To put it crudely the Labour group in denying the debate deliberately breached TDCs constitution. They should be exposed for this. I am happy to work with Thanet Conservative Councillors to fight against such undemocratic manipulation of the Council's Constitution by the Labour Group. This is an issue which transcends party politics and is all about open, transparent and honest management of our Council.

I recorded the debate on the EU motion at the Council. It is on my blogsite and Youtube and you are welcome to post it on your blog. I did notice that the additional security guard, paid for at great public expense, was paying extremely close attention to me all night. I wonder if the Labour Group had instructed him to keep me under observation.

Simon Moores said...

Thank you Ian. I'm delighted, no almost privileged to find something we can both agree upon and perhaps others visiting here may note the same

Duncan Smithson said...

Putting party politics and personal beliefs aside for the good of Thanet. Bravo gentlemen. You just restored some of my faith in Thanet politics :D

William Epps said...

Really great to see councillors on the opposite sides of the great divide, pooling their efforts for the good of the people. The present administration's secrecy, dictatorial attitude and denial of any form of responsibility, needs to be exposed and opposed.

Bernie said...

Just picking up on something said you think a room of cllrs are actually capable on debating this issue sensibly?
Could there actually be a little light dawning about public perception and what that perception might be if this matter were debated and did descend into racist or said to be racist jibes etc etc...seems all to easy to imagine!

if it is correct that TDC's constitution had now been broken, then I would like to see this dealt with in the right and proper manner. Presumably there must be consequences for such a serious failure? X

Simon Moores said...

Well, that's another good question Bernie. The idealogues on the other side are not good at what I would recognise as debate. If you are not convinced simply read the Thanet Labour blog

Jason Tipple said...

I think you are both wrong. Parties have their individual polices on the EU. People of Thanet and elsewhere are free to use their democratic right when they vote. The national political issues that were previously discussed were equal marriage and the bedroom tax, both issues that the Labour group could affect at local level. Membership of the EU is no something that could not be affected at a local level. It would be an utter waste of time and hot air. It just isn't the right forum for discussing issues you have no influence over. You may as well discuss Syria or the moon landing.

Furthermore your anecdote about a young female councillor is neither funny or relevant. We need more diversity in politics. It is an attempt to belittle someone and does you no credit whatsoever.

Simon Moores said...

Jason... That's absolutely wrong I'm afraid. Do some homework and the come back and join the debate if you wish but please don't pretend that either bedroom tax or gay marriage were somehow unique!

Jason Tipple said...

It's actually called equal marriage not gay marriage.

Thanet council was the first council to vote in favour of equal marriage. Thanet council has also said that they will introduce measures for people affected by the bedroom tax.

If there was a debate on the EU tomorrow and councillors locally voted that the EU was a bad thing would be the United Kingdom pull out of the EU? What could Thanet do locally.

I might be wrong of course. I am not a councillor but that is my understanding.

I saw you made a comment on Facebook last week about EU immigration. Mostly I agreed with what you said. It was only at the end you lost me a little. This isn't an attack just I don't understand or accept the need or validity of this debate locally. You did invite people to submit an opinion.

Simon Moores said...


I welcome opinions and thank you for the correction on equal marriage. If you look back at Thanetlife you will see this debate discussed in some detail. However, this was Government asking for a consultation with KCC and not TDC, which was an important distinction and thus had no place in the chamber, as TDC has no remit.

The bedroom tax is an interesting one. You are correct that it is Government policy and equally correct that TDC has views on the subject but other than raise a political objection "This Labour administration objects" it is also a Labour Council tasked with its collection.

Finally, I grant you that a referendum lies outside the remit of this Council. It is also a pledge for a future Conservative government and not present government policy as the LibDems would object.

I think that many people would support the principle of a referendum because of the tangible impact here in Thanet. Cllr Fenner rejected any debate on the subject and yet regardless of referendum the subject remains a deeply polarised issue here in Thanet. Thus nothing would have been lost in having a debate and one could argue lucidly perhaps that there is equivalency with the bedroom tax debate.

Barry James said...

I see a spirit of detente might be breaking out in Thanet perhaps

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that a recorded vote should accept the first vote - I cannot see any logic in allowing a second bite of the cherry - even if the first vote was a mistake - perhaps we should all have a second chance in voting

Duncan Smithson said...

I seem to remember that the bedroom tax debate was over a motion that 'TDC does not support the bedroom tax', rather than discussing practical applications. I remember thinking at the time that - other than point scoring - it was a mute debate with little application. You could argue the same would be true for the EU discussion.

To answer Bernie, I think this would have been a good debate. I don't think it would descend too far, as long as the discussion was focussed on the motion.

I think there is a hesitation to discuss the issue as the debate can be hijacked by the extremes. Perhaps a question time on this issue would be good? I would be happy to film and publish it.

Simon Moores said...

Well if its good enough for FIFA and the IOC it should be good enough for TDC but as Labour hold the chair second chances are permitted as you might expect!

Simon Moores said...

Sounds about right Duncan. I could not remember the exact wording of the motion

Jason Tipple said...

Thanks you, though I see you ignored my comment on the young female councillor. Perhaps the gentleman thing to do is to retract it and issue an apology? I'm sure you agree that we all wish for more diversity at TDC, not less.

1 o'clock Rob said...

Jason if you are going to call it "Equal Marriage" then I think you should cease to use the term bedroom tax and call it as it is on the books "Spare Room Subsidy".

Jason Tipple said...

Hi chaps,

to clarify the situation this is from TDC web page and is confirmation that the discussion on the bedroom tax had a practical outcome,

" In a move to protect the poorest and most vulnerable people in the district, Thanet District Council is to introduce measures which will support tenants impacted by the government’s Social Rented Size Criteria, often referred to as ‘The Bedroom Tax’.

At a Cabinet meeting last night (Thursday 14 November) members approved the creation of a transfer list for tenants looking to down-size their accommodation. This will see the council providing 25% of its own housing stock as direct lets to tenants hoping to move.

As part of these new measures, the council will also commit not to take legal action against tenants impacted by the policy for non-payment of their rent, unless they decline two offers of alternative accommodation.

Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor David Green, said: “Thanet District Council is serious about doing all it can to protect the people who most need our support. Whilst this isn’t an endorsement for tenants not to pay their rent, introducing these measures will ensure we go as far as we reasonably can to support the people who are affected by this national policy.”

The Social Rented Size Criteria Policy reduces Housing Benefit entitlement for tenants who are deemed to have more rooms than they need"

This is vastly different from a hypothetical discussion on EU membership.

Simon Moores said...

Jason.. We have more than enough diversity at TDC as it. In fact our missing diversity champion has reportedly been exploring the subject in rather more depth than many of us might have imagined.

Quite how you leap from a motion on the spare room subsidy to a cabinet decision to do errr... exactly what government expects TDC to do, I can't quite fathom but keep up the good work!

jason tipple said...

Simon the comment at 8.35 isnt from me. Very strange.

Simon Moores said...

Looks like identity fraud!

Anonymous said...

jodie had no interest in politics before meeting scobie and has had no interest since. stop bugging her with questions.

William Epps said...

Jason, a word of advice would be to get yourself a google account. If you just use a name it will be abused by others. Typically a chap named Farnie Barnard still appears on some sites, but he returned to South Africa weeks ago. Others have had their names (and views) taken in vain.

Jason Tipple said...

Thank you William, I'll get that done later.

Jason Tipple (the real one!)

Anonymous said...

Honesty and transparency are but two of the virtues which we should all see at TDC. If we are to genuinely see change within the council from both officers and councillors, I would add trust and respect to the list. Without this, both main parties will find it difficult to find common ground to work together. To this end Labour could start by taking steps to restore council credit and either strip or request the removal of cllr Worrow's positions in council until he clears his name, or not. This should be standard procedure and be automatic. Most people would do it themselves, Worrow seems to need a push! It might seem a small thing, but this is serious offence and drags TDC yet further into the mire.

Anonymous said...

According to Smudger in today's Gazette, it was actually Kim Gibson who made the "Yes... I mean No!" comment.

Simon Moores said...

Ahhh Smudger. I thought the Gazonk reporter had left well before then.

However, we'll have to watch the video I suppose. As it was a recorded vote, the councillor's name is called and rather a lot of people appeared to believe that it was Cllr Hibbert