Oh gosh, darn and golly. My poor neglected blog! It has been almost an entire year since I tended to the garden of tranquility for my poor chaotic mind.
Why have I come back today, and not cut and run? Well, because I just followed a new blog site, Southborough News , and it got me thinking about the importance of the grass roots of local politics. (And that’s where I’ve lost half the people who read the first few lines) .
Since I last updated my blog two pretty major political events have taken place and I’m pretty sure my faithful readership (all both of you) are probably surprised I didn’t have a big old Brexit rant and that I didn’t turn the airwaves (is it airwaves when it’s the internet? The webwaves? Or can we just live with metaphor?) red (white) and blue with ranting and raving and a LOT of cursing regarding Donald Trump’s election and inauguration.
(Please note I have been very good and referred to him by his correct name and not the very unaffectionate pet name I used around the house when ranting at my poor long-suffering partner. Suffice it to say that it involves enveloping Trump in a particular 4 letter word and a trumpet. If you can’t work it out and are curious, message me and I’ll tell you… But you have to swear not to tell the NSA. I want my blog privileges and my fake news status.)
So why have I come back to blog about my local by-election? I’ve every doubt if you’re not in my area you have no idea where the Southborough North Ward is, and if you are, you may not even know where it encompasses. It’s because of a huge hot button issue in Southborough which may finally give the Tories a bit of a bloody nose in this area, and may see them losing to Liberal Democrats (no Labour candidate standing): the demolition of a particular landmark in the area – The Royal Victoria Hall.
I’m 27, and I fondly remember this particular place from my childhood, but I know people older than my mother who also remember going there as a child.
The Royal Victoria Hall was built in 1900, and it has been a focal point for the community of Southborough for such a long time. It is also where our council offices are held. People assume that because Southborough is a part of Tunbridge Wells and also falls under Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, that it’s one and the same. But NO! We have our own Town Council here in Southborough and if/when The Tories pull down that landmark building, the Southborough Council will be left without an office (actually they’ve been offered an attic at the TWBC offices, how very generous…)
It seems that the Tories have had their greedy eyes on this building for a long time, and build “The Southborough Hub”, and have been selling off land in other locations to fund this project. Local Councillor Nick Blackwell from Labour has said that they “seem intent on selling off every asset STC owns to satisfy their vanity project” (Quote source here) and sadly, I would have to agree very strongly with that sentiment.
I love where I live, but it doesn’t take much to see how overlooked Southborough is in the area. Abandoned derelict spaces are smattered down our version of a High Street, and yes, the RVH isn’t in the best of shape. But what do the local government do here? Nothing.
“Aha, but Kim!” I hear the defenders of the blue team cry, “The Southborough Hub! That’s hardly nothing!” And yes, you’re right, the Tories want to build a community hub with council office space, a new theatre space, a drs surgery, and it’s all going to be shiny and new and exciting!
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? Tis the very essence of showing off and a waste of money.
I have seen and heard this community hub being referred to as a vanity project by 5 different people in as many days. And it is. It is an ego massage of the Conservative Council who just want to appear to be doing something phenomenal without actually doing anything. Everything they proposed about the funding (it would be self funding apparently) has been blown out of the water, and many people are highly dubious that it will be what they have promised.
So many people are opposed to the Hub, but more particularly, the demolition of the Victorian era hall. Opinion in the area is not massively split (of course some people support it, but in general, most people have joined the campaign to save it.) Most people believe that the money for the Hub should be used to renovate this century old building. It won’t cost as much as the Hub, and additions can be made, creating spaces that the Tories allegedly have dreamed of.
But opinion of the electorate has not been listened to. Is it any wonder that people become so despondent with politics, when at the very basic level, people who they actually may run into down the pub who they elected won’t even listen to them? How do people think they have a chance of being listened to by anyone in Westminster, if their Councillor won’t even listen?
Furthermore, and here’s where I go all Brexit ranting on you, (you just knew it was coming, didn’t you?) if the opinions of the nation are enough to pull us out of a decades old stable political alliance and trade agreement and risk our nation’s entire economic security, as well as our nation’s moral compass smashing to pieces as our PM desperately forges an alliance with
a Racist Dorito … whoops… an unqualified statesman … an unfairly elected bigot the President of the USA, as a result of being friendless in Europe , then why do the opinions of the residents of Southborough not matter?
The Southborough Community Hub, in very basic theory, sounds like a grand idea. A place for those in the community to share, a space where people can go and be a part of the fabric of our local area. But we already have a place we can do that – it needs renovating not destroying.
There is very little wonder as to why that old sense of community has vanished in modern Britain. That Blitz Spirit that Baby Boomer Brexiteers so extolled, and used as a reason to think we can make our country great again just doesn’t exist. Why? Not because of “foreigners”, if that spirit existed still it would be all encompassing and would extend to anyone and everyone – kind of the point. It is my opinion that it is the fault of politicians with bigger ambitions than serving their communities, overlooking their electorate, and completely destroying our local community pride, that has led to the desecration of that spirit. It is also my opinion that areas in which the local community actually act like a community are the areas where people are more likely to be trusting of those from different backgrounds.
If you get people at a grassroots level, and encourage a sense of community pride, that all adds up to national pride NOT nationalism. And that is how we avoid the election of Wax Faced Bigots and Fascist Tangerines in gelded rooms whilst blaming immigrants for why you have less money.
National and International politics may seem more important to you, wherever you are, than my little Ward’s problems with an old Victorian theatre, but honestly – this is important. This is where politics loses people. People don’t see any benefit in their area, so they become apathetic. They allow people to get into local office, to become an MP, and get a tiny bit of influence because they just don’t care to vote in their local election. That MP gets noticed, gets more influence in Parliament and before you know it is an ESA-cutting, anti-abortion (ie denying women rights to bodily autonomy), pro-homeopathy, NHS selling supporting, Junior Doctor bashing, Cabinet Member who campaigned Remain but is voting in favour of Hard Brexit due to the cushy promotion he got in the Post Brexit Chaotic “Shuffle”. Yes Greg Clark, I’m looking at you. Thanks for your spineless letter I received today saying that whilst you ethically opposed Brexit before June, you’d prefer to vote for it now.
So yeah, meet Greg Clark, Business Secretary as of July 2016. He is my LOCAL MP. He was my grassroots local MP.
He is now in a position of huge influence. Theresa May was once “just” a local MP. Last week she outraged her entire nation by keeping quiet and not standing up to vile racism and dictatorial policy making from the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world. She shook his
tiny hand and sold off our NHS whilst keeping quiet about his policies for far too long (for comparison – Canada’s PM immediately condemned it and offered asylum; not to mention the majority of European political leaders, and many many UK politicians.)
Theresa May was there. Theresa May was silent. Theresa May, MP for Maidenhead.
Remember that before you cast aside grassroots politics.
Remember that before you think that local election is a waste of time.
And politicians – remember your electorate. Remember the people who put you there. And remember the percentage by which you won when you ignore the will of the people and remember how much that can change.
Hopefully, this lifelong Red will get to see that change next week.
Oh, and for goodness sakes SAVE SOUTHBOROUGH’S ROYAL VICTORIA HALL.