Suffolk County Council where democracy went to die

Suffolk County Council's Cabinet
On Tuesday at 11am in Endeavour House Ipswich the cabinet of Suffolk County Council met to quite evidently rubber stamp the decision they had already made on Suffolk Libraries. I did not attend the meeting but Wordblog has covered really well exactly what happened. I have however attended previous Cabinet meetings and they are truly depressing for anyone who believes in democracy. Almost every decision is unanimous and there is nothing that would pass for real debate. "Self-congratulatory" is the word almost everyone used of the proceedings.

I guarantee you that your local parish council, village hall management committee, school governing body, cricket club you name it would be a much better place to look for democracy than Suffolk County Council's cabinet.

There evidently is some discussion in reality but it takes place safely behind the scenes and a comment made at the meeting by one of the Cabinet members that they had discussed something "upstairs" belies the truth that the Cabinet is a "showpiece" not where the actual decisions are made. Like the party conferences of modern times no real debate, discussion or scrutiny happens in public at least.

In the case of the Suffolk County Council Cabinet it isn't even a successful showpiece.

I could go on and personally I put much of the blame on Labour's move to "cabinet" governance for local government which I think is wholly inappropriate. The absence of any opposition stifles any debate and is fundamentally undemocratic. If the Cabinet is a rubber stamp the County Council itself is frankly a complete irrelevance. Indeed it is unusual that a decision, even one as important as this one on libraries actually goes to the Council itself to be decided and allow the handful of opposition members to bravely try and apply some accountability and pretence of democracy.

I seriously thank them but they really must wonder why they bother sometimes.

The last time I attended a full Council meeting I actually heard Conservative members asking each other "what is it we are voting for". They had no idea and would by and large have voted for anything they were told to. If they were turkeys probably they would vote for Christmas but sheep would be a much better analogy. I described the proceedings as a "democratic car crash" but I now wonder why I used the word democratic. There is nothing democratic at all about the proceedings.

But in some ways maybe I am being to harsh on the County Council. After all it has next to no power anyway. Today's EADT proclaims "no tax increase County pledges" but the County Council didn't even make this decision. The government did. Stripped of even the ability to decide if taxes should be raised and to make basic decisions about the local area such as where schools should be open - another decision now made in Westminster - is it any wonder the proceedings lack any sense of democracy?

We may just as well disband the County Council and save some money. It doesn't even have the power to make meaningful local decisions (even if it wanted to).

Some real democracy in action outside Stradbroke Library
People sometimes suggest talking children to watch parliament or local council proceedings so they see what democracy "looks like". If I want to convince my children that democracy is dead I will take them to a few Suffolk County Council meetings!  I am not sure I will. They would probably try and grab the microphone and inject some real democracy into the proceedings!
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