• East Devon Alliance makes political history … letting a breath of fresh air into a stagnant room”

    2nd February 2015 | News | Claire
  • EDDC Leader of the Independents, Cllr Ben Ingham has teamed up with the Alliance and the group has registered with the Electoral Commission in order to provide a support network for dozens of hopeful district councillors.

    The aim is to end the oppressive rule of the Conservatives at East Devon District Council, to be replaced by a fresh, new and progressive set of councillors.

    This morning at the Thomas Whitty Centre at Axminster the atmosphere was excited and electric, as Alliance chairman, Paul Arnott and Ben Ingham outlined their plans for a new forward-thinking council.

    Here’s Paul’s speech:
    A few weeks ago, some of the people in this room mounted a rather lovely evening. It was to launch this book, Literature and Landscape in East Devon. What was so lovely was that it was an entirely successful effort to give our District area, bordered roughly by the Axe to the east, the Exe to the west an identity from literature.

    At a time when both the Leader and, perhaps more oddly, the Chief Executive of the East Devon District Council felt it appropriate to insult East Devon Alliance members in public, this wonderful publication, full of love for the landscape we know we are so fortunate to live in, confirmed that we are such a dangerous group of individuals that our militant wing is a Literary group. Oh yes. They know what we’re up to.

    Photographing beauty spots, researching, reading books, we must be stopped …
    But we won’t be silenced, EDDC apparatchiks.

    Because we understand an idea which, if you you seem to have forgotten. Nobody has a god-given right to allow and faciliate the destruction of our precious landscape and environment. Or to stop people speaking truth to power.

    What we understand is that when you live somewhere as astonishing as East Devon, you are stewards. We are but passing through. And we will be judged by what we leave behind. In terms of our landscape, but also in the quality of our democracy

    Now many of the literary greats feature in this book, though nothing of William Shakespeare – probably because his beat was mainly the road from London to Warwickshire. He wasn’t an A303 kind of guy like us, more of an M40. So in recogniton of his absence, I’m going to use a bit of him now, and I’m going right to the top of his hit parade, Hamlet, to his most famous riff:

    To be, or not to be: that is the question:
    whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
    the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
    or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
    and by opposing end them?

    This room is full of people with Hamlet’s dilemma. Just how many examples of outrageous fortune inflicted by our local authority are we meant to swallow. A celebration like today is not perhaps the moment to dwell on the negative.

    But the straw which broke this particular camel’s back was the introduction last year of public speaking restrictions.
    Just at the time when wonderful local groups and individuals were regularly appearing before the planning committee, saving the council from making terrible decisions, this same council decides to block more than a handful from speaking.

    With no local plan in place – entirely the fault of the current ruling party – one of the most precious safeguards was removed. And in so doing it finally confirmed itself to be authoritarian and secretive.

    So now I’m going to give you another one, rather more obscure, from a man who most certainly did not visit Sidmouth, Axminster or Honiton. Sophocles in the 5th century BC, and his rib-tickling entertainment, Oedipus Rex.

    In which there was a blind soothsayer,  a visionary, named Teiresias. I’m giving you this now, because this is my favourite ever quote. My children will be appalled, and would be happier of if I stripped to the waist and sang Katy Perry’s Firework verbatim – which I could. But for now, in English, because unlike Boris Ancient Greek is not one of my languages, Teiresias said this:

    “To have perception, where the perceiver draws no profit, is a dreadful thing”

    Or, in more prosaic terms, “If you can see what’s really going on around you, and you do nothing about it, you turn way, things are only going to get worse.”
    So how do we react. Do we take our example from the comedians who have joined the national debate.

    Russel brand, for example. Now what time is it, just after noon. I imagine he is getting out of bed about now and tousling his hair while a handmaiden reads great chunks out loud from his latest booky wook about Democracy Welll good luck Russel, and I mean that. But, when you say, don’t vote, why not? How about you pull your trousers up and stand for something. Start with a small council where you live. Actions speak louder than words.

    Now the fray has been entered by the Pub Landlord, standing as a stunt against Nigel Farage. Again, Al Murray, possessor of an Oxford history degree in history, why aren’t you standing as yourself. What’s the point in just taking the mickey.

    OR, do we take our example from someone in the room today, who has inspired many of us to real action – Independent Parliamentary candidate for East Devon, Claire Wright.
    And only last week Claire made a point we would all agree with.

    She said:“We have a conservative crime commissioner, a conservative MP and every council locally is Conservative. The county council…tends to be, fairly progressive, but the district council is…a dinosaur. It has always had a large conservative majority…getting things through is quite difficult because they block vote, and that can’t be good for democracy.

    “People are tired of the old political parties, and May 7 has to be about getting a better balance on EDD, and [a greater number of] other councillors, especially Independents, because they don’t have to toe a party line and can vote with their consciences.”

    Words such as that, which speak for so many, are why I am doing two things today I would normally want to avoid. I am wearing a name badge, in case I’ve forgotten who I am. It reads Paul Arnott,

    Chairman, East Devon Alliance. I could not be more proud to wear that on my lapel. And for the first time since Charlton Athletic played Crystal Palace in the early 1970s, I am also wearing a rosette. I have never likeD these things – I feel rather like I have just won third best in show at Crufts. But I wear this today with pride too.

    Because as you will have gathered by now, the East Devon Alliance has three announcments to be made today. The first, is that our new website, set up by a wonderful hard-working volunteer who is so busy with it that he can’t even be here today, has just gone live.

    Why? Because today we also announce that we have formed an umbrella alliance to support independent candidates across East Devon who want to stand in the district elections in May. Two main reasons for this new site..

    One. It can be very hard and lonely being an independent, and I think there is more than enough evidence by now to suggest that a large portion of the local ruling party are, let’s say, somewhat lacking in the milk of human kindness. We want independents to feel a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

    The second reason is just as important. It’s great for independents to knock on doors and push leaflets through letterboxes, and they will often be well known in their communities.

    But the voter is owed the right of being able to really check out what they will stand for – and as a first port of call, our website will allow them so to that. To see the issues in their own ward, an interview with the independent candidate, and a list of aims we have all agreed need to be addresses.

    And the third and final Announcement is this. We are serious about this.

    We want to help people to win this election. And to do that we need real leadership, political nous, experience, someone who knows where the levers are so that we can effect real change, actually make this awful district council obey some of the basic tenets of its own constitution, to set a new example all the way down the line to some parish and town councils too.

    So we are delighted today to announce that we have appointed as our Leader a man with 20 years of experience as a councillor, the current Leader of the Independent Group, may I introduce our new Leader, Ben Ingham

    Ben’s speech
    It is not everyday that you hear an independent councillor offering a commitment on behalf of several other independents to deliver a series of outcomes that the Conservative Party have failed to provide. But that is exactly what you are listening to.

    If elected, this is what Independent Councillors supported by the East Devon Alliance will seek to do when elected:
    We will control future development by
    1. Making adoption of the East Devon Local Plan the councils main priority, forcing a successful provision at the very earliest opportunity
    2. Creating a new committee to guide and control planning strategy to make sure East Devon never finds itself in its current position again; floundering desperately without a local plan
    3. Challenging proposed developments that do not directly serve local needs or meet the nature and character of their surroundings
    4. Ensuring permission is only given to development that includes the necessary infrastructure to support it
    5. Working with Town and Parish Councils to implement their Neighbourhood Plans in order to prevent strengthen protection against inappropriate development
    6. Lobbying national government to amend the National Planning Policy Framework to include a presumption against any development on agricultural land classified as grades 1, 2 and 3.
    7. Seeking definition of “sustainability” to include available school places, full life health-care provision and the impact of increased traffic congestion

    We will improve standards of conduct, accountability and transparency by
    1. Adoption of the Seven Principles of Public Life set out by Lord Nolan in 1995: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership within the council constitution
    2. Separating Overview of Future Strategy and Scrutiny of Council Decisions into two separate committees.
    3. Ensuring all councillors comply with the Probity in Planning guidelines issued by the Local Government Association and Planning Advisory Service
    4. Reviewing the processes by which complaints against Councillors and officers are dealt with to ensure they are more publicly accountable for their conduct
    5. Reforming the Council organisation structure away from the cabinet and portfolio holders and replacing it with committees.
    6. Aligning the Council constitution to conform with guidance from the Information Commissioner and the Local Government Ombudsman
    7. An immediate repeal of the public speaking restrictions
    8. Introducing the recording and telecasting of all meetings
    9. Amending the constitution so that all votes will be recorded by an electronic voting system to ensure everyone knows how Councillors have voted
    10. Amend the EDDC constitution to require confidential information in planning applications to be separated out into appendices that can be easily redacted to allow non-confidential parts to be discussed in public
    11. Compliance and enforcement of Planning Conditions within the remit of the Planning Department with appropriate resourcing
    12. Ensuring all planning applications are dealt with in a timely manner and with regular feedback to Town or Parish Councils on any delays
    13. Ensuring all town and substantial Parish Councils in becoming Quality Councils with Society of Local Council Clerks qualified clerks.
    14. Converting the Asset Management Forum into a formal Council committee which will be subject to openness and transparency legislation

    We will stimulate the local economy by
    1. Offering greater support to start-ups and small businesses throughout East Devon and ensuring that the entrepreneurial spirit once more becomes a vibrant part of our communities
    2. Where appropriate, seeking to secure more employment sites in the towns of East Devon to provide a greater range of employment opportunities for the young and improve their wage expectations
    3. Diversifying the local economy in order to raise the average wage and household income within East Devon by encouraging new business ventures such as light manufacturing
    4. Implementing an immediate review of development for our towns and the creation of a coherent long-term strategy for a prosperous future
    5. Providing free car parking in town car parks every Saturday and for the entire month of December across the District
    6. Lobbying national government to remove VAT on Tourist accommodation and Tourism related services, as already happens in other European countries

    We will deliver value for money by
    1. Freezing plans to demolish the existing district Council offices and the sale of the Knowle site with associated Council assets
    2. Assessing how the existing Knowle site and Exmouth Town Hall can accommodate modern offices and mixed accommodation at a genuinely neutral cost
    3. Assessment of on going projects and staffing levels to ensure they are affordable and commensurate with district priorities
    4. Restricting council recruitment and requiring all new posts to be agreed at Full Council

    We will stand up for local services by
    1. Taking the lead in bringing together health boards, local doctors and patients to keep open small local hospitals
    2. Developing a local strategy to improve the provision of care for the elderly, especially dementia patients, who are often forced to cope in situations that are just not acceptable

    We will protect the natural environment by
    1. Following the lead of the Devon Wildlife Trust and others to ensure that we protect our precious environment and its wildlife
    2. Maintaining the existing nature reserves and seek ways to further protect wildlife and habitats
    3. Considering proposals for a new National Park within East Devon
    4. Ensuring that environmental legislation is scrupulously observed in all planning applications

    We will be Setting a New Standard by
    1. Putting the hopes and aspirations of the people of East Devon first
    2. Looking after East Devon’s interests above everything else, totally irrespective of who forms our National Government
    3. Making sure district projects and strategies have the support of the people of East Devon by two way communications before spending their money
    4. Protecting our beautiful countryside from unnecessary development
    5. Providing better local employment opportunities for young people
    6. Securing a better quality of life for everyone in East Devon
    7. Ensuring that East Devon’s future favours everyone living and working here, not just an elite few

    For many years now, throughout the UK, the three main national political parties have been telling us what they want to do instead of listening and then delivering what we need to have. People are so fed up with this that they have even been voting for the nationalist parties as an alternative. This has happened in Northern Ireland, Wales and most recently in Scotland to alarming concern. Now it has reached England. This has happened at European, national and county elections. Now it is about to happen at district elections, even here in East Devon.

    These alternative parties prey on people’s gravest fears and subconscious.

    They preach division and separation instead of unity, respect and understanding. I suggest our grandparents and great-grandparents would be ashamed to even listen to their filth. What sort of alternative is that? Well, it does not have to be like that. Here in East Devon we do have alternatives. And we have done everything we can to make them credible to the eyes of the people of East Devon. Claire Wright is standing as an Independent parliamentary candidate. Here, the East Devon Alliance of Independent candidates and Independent councillors have a very definite set of ideas on offer. 

    I suggest to you that our campaign is like a breath of fresh air in a stagnant room. So over the next few weeks all of us in East Devon should open the windows to change, breathe in deeply and take part in the most exciting political event to happen in East Devon for decades.

    Thank you for listening. 

    If you are thinking about standing as an Independent in the East Devon District Council elections, take a look at the new East Devon Alliance website – http://www.eastdevonalliance.org.uk/