As I’ve already mentioned, I was at the full council meeting of Southend Borough Council on Thursday. I was in the public gallery for most of my time there, I’m at pains to point out, and not in the chamber beyond my starring role asking a question of the leader of the council.
Nonetheless, I somehow seemed to still be the centre of attention, with references to my blog being made under a number of items.
The prevailing view coming from the council chamber (And some outside of and subsequent to the meeting -Ed) is that those who are blogging about politics in the town are somehow doing something wrong, that opinions contrary to their own being expressed on the internet should not be permitted.
It will, I’m sure, not surprise readers that this blogger disagrees wholeheartedly.
The bulk of the not-quite-namechecks I received were when councillors were discussing the planning decision on Heath & Carby House on Victoria Avenue, and the reduction in the amount of affordable housing provided. Cllrs Robinson (LAB – Westborough), Gilbert (LAB – Victoria) raised the blog post by Daryl Peagram, the Conservative candidate for Westborough ward, and made many of the points about it that I did on this very blog.
Poor Daryl was pretty much universally condemned for his poor choice of words, but part of Tory group leader Cllr Lamb’s (CON – West Leigh) defence of his candidate centred around me:
“There are people who were here earlier who have now gone, who have done exactly the same, from different parties.“
Now, first point, I haven’t posted anything like Daryl’s blog. Oh, I’m sure I’ve posted some things that have upset Cllr Lamb, and many other Conservatives, quite a bit. But despite what they may feel, I write very carefully. I do not touch private lives, I make sure that I know what I’m talking about, and if I am reporting rumour then I make very clear that is what I’m doing.
I have a lot of sympathy for Daryl, actually. Most of what he posts is (Like his leaflets -Ed) gibberish, but he is much more enthusiastic than most of the Conservative candidates, and I think that his error on that post — and it was an error — was born out of that over-enthusiasm.
I am bemused, though, that the view of figures from Cllr Lamb, to UKIP group leader Cllr Waterworth (UKIP – Blenhiem Park), to even the local Green Party, seems to be that there is no place for discussion of local politics and local government by ordinary residents and activists on the internet. This is what Simon Cross, the Green Party candidate for both Rochford & Southend East and Kursaal ward at the last election, wrote in a letter published in the Southend Echo today:
“My suggestion is to stop incessantly blogging and get on with representing your neighbours, or stand aside and allow Southend to be represented by people who care.“
All of this is, I suspect, deliberately missing the point.
My blogging is, as a local activist and as a candidate in the local elections, part of how I represent residents. A big part of the problem with local politics the country over is that people feel shut out and disinterested in it. What I am doing — or what I am trying to do — is to open up the council chamber and a world otherwise dominated by often-retired establishment figures who think it’s their right, and shouting egomaniacs who dislike any voice other than their own.
I blog about how this town is run. I do not blog without bias, and I have my own opinions and views which I go to great pains about. If you disagree with a blog, you can feel free to comment on it, or to respond elsewhere on the internet. I encourage you to do so.
I would ask why those who are opposed to “incessant blogging” take this view. Could it, by any chance, be because they want local politics in Southend to remain a preserve of themselves and those who agree with them.