Why the City of Democracy idea shouldn't become a political football

February 7, 2017

 

Picture courtesy and copyright of South Wales Argus.

 

THERE are proposals to brand (for want of a better word) Newport as the City of Democracy.

It is an idea that is in its infancy but one that has some merit.

Sadly, it looks increasingly as though it will become a political football during the upcoming city council election campaign.

That is a real shame because this should not be a party political issue.

The idea is constantly referred to by the Conservative opposition in the Civic Centre as ‘Labour’s City of Democracy’ and there has been some faux outrage at the revelation, following a Freedom of Information request from the Tories, that the council paid £55,000 to consultants to flesh out the proposal.

Now I don’t particularly criticise the Conservatives for this approach. They are the opposition and their job is to oppose the Labour administration.

There is, however, a certain amount of inaccuracy and hypocrisy around opposition to the City of Democracy concept.

Firstly, it is not a Labour proposal. That is a fact.

The idea came first from the independent Chartist Commission; I know this because I served as a voluntary advisor to the commission.

It was taken forward by the council’s chief executive – an independent civil servant, not a politician.

And it was eventually approved by the current ruling Labour group, which I suppose is where the political element in this began.

The criticism of the use of consultants is an interesting one.

In reality, all political administrations use and pay for the advice and expertise of consultants.

The previous Conservative/Liberal Democrat administration at the Civic Centre was certainly no exception to this. Again, I do not criticise them for this.

And, interestingly, the think tank that produced the City of Democracy report – Respublica – is far more in tune with Conservative values and policies than it is Labour’s. Indeed, its founder Philip Blond is generally agreed to have been a major influence on former prime minister David Cameron.

There also seems to be a general misconception that the City of Democracy concept is about the council and what goes on in the council chamber.

It is not.

If it was then, frankly, I’d want nothing to do with it.

But the idea is about Newport. It is about the city as a while and its place in the UK and the wider world.

The original idea was for there to be an annual Festival of Democracy in Newport that would attract important and influential speakers and guests from across the world.

The idea has merit but there is much work needed to bring it to life – or, indeed, to evaluate whether it has a prospect of success. I’ve made an offer to the council’s chief executive to help with that work on a purely voluntary basis.

I hope party politics does not kill the idea in its infancy. But I fear that is precisely what will happen over the next few months.

 

GOOD WEEK…

For Newport County AFC.

Bottom of the Football League they may be, but a run of four matches unbeaten has given everyone associated with the club a real lift and there is a growing belief that relegation can be avoided.

County face a massive challenge on Friday night at Rodney Parade when they face league leaders Doncaster.

But win that and the great escape really is on.

 

BAD WEEK…

For Donald Trump.

Within days of his so-called Muslim ban coming into force, it is suspended by a judge (or a ‘so-called judge’ in Trump-speak).

Whatever your views on the president and his policies, events of the last week have served as a worthwhile reminder that the law is above us all.

 

This blog is published every Tuesday in the South Wales Argus.

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