One of the many fascinating things about Southend is surely the discovery, in 2003, of a Saxon tomb nearby Prittlewell Priory, in the north of the borough. The body within is believed to be one of the Saxon kings of Essex, and he has his own pressure group.
They call themselves SKIPP (Saxon King in Priory Park), and though they initially started as a campaign group to get a museum built on the site of the tomb, they nowadays lobby on a whole plethora of issues. One of which is the Independent
Party Group’s pet policy, replacing the council’s cabinet system with the older committee system.
So understandably they were a bit miffed at the decision of the Council the other week to retain the cabinet system. And for some reason, they aimed their displeasure at the Labour councillor for Milton ward, Julian Ware-Lane.
In their “press release” (Read: Facebook post -Ed), SKIPP said:
Julian Ware-Lane found it necessary to take a swipe at a local pressure group during a Council meeting on Thursday by complaining that they are self-appointed so lack democracy. We suggest he looks up the meaning and role of a pressure group! They have a bona fide role in a democratic society which he might understand if he were involved in Parliamentary business where lobby groups are respected and accommodated.
Presumably he was referring to Saxon King in Priory Park (SKIPP) as we have been campaigning for the cabinet system in council to be replaced by the more democratic committee system. This was part of our main campaign for a purpose built Saxon village in Priory Park on a brownfield site to display the great Saxon remains found nearby over 10 years ago. This would keep the link to the burial site itself – financially crucial if the town wants to make a success of this precious find.
We exist because we have represented wide spread opinions at a time when no one in the ruling council cabinet wanted to listen to common sense and we have therefore played a prominent role in local life for the past 6 years. It is a shame that Julian Ware-Lane seeks to disrespect this important role in a democratic society.
The SKIPP Committee
I don’t immediately see what the council’s internal organisation has to do with a new museum, but there you go. For balance, and the other side of this odd conversation, here is what Cllr Ware-Lane said at the meeting in question:
“I do find it an irony that there is a pressure group locally, who complain about the lack of democracy yet are self-appointed, unelected spokespeople themselves.“
The first thing I notice, putting the two statements together, is that SKIPP’s response is in very small part concerned with what Julian actually said, and rather more directed to a strawman approximation of it. They don’t disagree with what he has said, they don’t dispute it, they don’t raise any evidence against it. One wonders why, if it is such an affront.
But they do suggest that he looks up the definition of a pressure group. So let’s do that. According to Wikipedia:
“[A pressure group] is a group or an organization which tries to influence the government but does not hold power in the government…“
That is a very broad bracket. It would include, for instance, Amnesty International. It would also include the likes of right-wing BNP splinter group Britain First. Pressure groups can, certainly, be forces for good; but it is a big jump to presume that they all, therefore, are good things.
Following on, some pressure (lobbying) groups are respected in Parliament. Again, far from all of them. And indeed, one of the big political scandals of recent years has been shadowy and untransparent groups influencing policy.
Which is somewhat ironic, given that SKIPP isn’t exactly a model of transparency itself. The “SKIPP Committee” signing this statement is of interest; who are Mark Patsy Link, Sheena Walker, and Mark Sharp*? Who elected them to their committee positions? This would have, I suggest, been a perfect opportunity for SKIPP to explain the answers to all of those questions. Their not having done so, to me at least, suggests that they don’t have any to give.
As I have stated before, I don’t think that there is any practical difference between the cabinet and committee system, and certainly not enough to justify spending money to change it in a time of austerity. I will say this for the council, though: I know who its members are; I know how they got there; how and to whom they are accountable; and I know their personal and financial interests.
None of those are questions I can answer for SKIPP.
*In Mark Sharp’s case, it would be negligent of me not to mention that he is, himself, an aspiring local politician. In May he contested the Milton council seat won by Labour’s Cheryl Nevin in May. Nothing wrong with that, certainly, but SKIPP acting as both a nebulous “pressure group” and a political party smacks of the Independent
Party Group’s policy on cake: pro-having, pro-eating.