The rise of citizen power: it’s time to learn your ABC

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The rise of citizen power: it’s time to learn your ABC

As we head towards the local election on May 5, we are noticing a strange phenomenon: the rise of the residents’ groups as a political force.

Take for example Spelthorne Council in Surrey. This is the political composition:

  • Conservative – 17
  • Liberal Democrats – 7
  • United Spelthorne Group – 4
  • Labour – 3
  • Independent – 2
  • Independent Labour – 2
  • Independent Spelthorne Group – 2
  • Green Party – 2

So, as the largest group the Conservatives should lead the Council. Not on your Nelly. All the little partiers have ganged up under the ABC slogan: Anybody But Conservative. So the leader of the Council is a Liberal Democrat as they are largest small party, if you get my meaning.

The council has a committee structure and the Chair of the Planning Committee is from the Green Party and the Deputy Leader is from the Independent Spelthorne Group who have no truck with United Spelthorne Group, who are obviously not united. You will notice that the Labour Group is also split.

Contrast this situation with the composition of the council just eight years ago in 2015:

  • Conservatives – 35
  • Liberal Democrats – 3
  • Labour – 1

And its not just Spelthorne (who I am not picking on), this phenomenon of Citizen empowerment is rampant in the South-East. In Guildford, they have rotating leadership – two years for the Lib Dems and the Two years for the Residents Group.

In Epsom and Ewell, the Residents Association, who have had control for years, has 32 seats against 6 for all the rest. In Hart, Community Campaign Hart and the Lib Dems run the show.

A picture is worth a 1 ,000 words. The map on the left is Tandridge in 2010 whereas on the right, this is council shape today. (Images courtesy of Wikipedia). After years of Tory control, the Independents and Residents groups – tacitly backed by the Lib Dems – now run the Council

At the last election, the Tory leader lost his seat and firmly blamed it on the Local Plan that proposed thousands of new homes. Tandridge is 98% green belt.

So why all the change? It can be summed up in one word: development. Folk in the over-crowed South-East and London just don’t want any more. And the more government pushes, the greater the resistance at local level.

Is it any wonder that the Chesham and Amersham by-election result – that overturned a secure Tory majority – had the South-East Conservatives in  a mad panic.

People are very cosy and you may call them NIMBYs, but they have invested in their homes and they are damned if central government tries to push housing numbers at them.

There is very simple message here for any developer who wants to bring forward plans: start at the grass roots level and get your consultation right.

Have a good week.