On whose side is the “Silent Majority”? What is “consultation”?

Some thought- provoking thoughts from an EDA member:

An argument often used by EDDC Councillors when they wish to ignore local opposition to an unpopular decision is to appeal to their instinctive knowledge of the real wishes of the “silent majority”.

Here is a cautionary tale of an attempt to turn a school in Sussex into an academy using just such an argument which appears to have backfired. The story appeared in the Independent last week written by columnist Mark Steel. Mark Steel’s style is to intersperse facts with wry comment – here are the facts extracted from the article:

“In March, the head…… announced his plan for the school to become an academy, subject to a “consultation”. Because the rules decree there must be a consultation……. A meeting was called in which parents, students and teachers expressed outright opposition, but the consultation went on, in the form of a series of presentations by the head and his executives. These included an “artist’s impression” of the gleaming structure – linked with magical walkways and smiley children – that the school would surely become once it was an academy.

On the other hand, we were told, if it remained as it was, that there would be “no money” for repairs, and we were shown a photo of a decaying art block. …….

Despite this, hundreds of our children wore badges in opposition to the plan, posters went up in countless windows, there was a march, and the teachers went on strike. Then the local council, sticking to the obsolete definition of “consultation”, arranged a ballot of parents. The head and his allies contacted parents personally to win their vote, but the result was 29 per cent for the academy and 71 per cent against, on a turnout of 40 per cent………..

Immediately those pushing for the academy responded by insisting the vote was irrelevant. A local Conservative councillor told me: “It counts for nothing, because if you add the Yes vote to those who didn’t vote that’s a majority for those in support”…………………………….

Still the school, backed by the Department for Education, marched on with its plans. ………..

But, amazingly, and who could have predicted this, their response made people even more furious. More strikes were planned, elections for vacant governor posts were won overwhelmingly by opponents of the academy, and on Monday this week it was announced that the plans had been dropped entirely, due to the scale of opposition.

Full text here:

One thought on “On whose side is the “Silent Majority”? What is “consultation”?

  1. The moral of this story is that if we want change, then we need to make it happen in the next local elections. Which is exactly what Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said in a recent letter in answer to a question I asked:

    “Local authorities are independent bodies and accountable to their electorate rather than Ministers, and it is right that councils are properly held to account by their electorate. To help the public hold their councils to account we have, for instance, changed the rules on openness and transparency of council decision making, most recently putting in place new rules to allow the public to report on council meetings. I consider this approach [i.e. localism], rather than centralist, top-down control, is the right one and allows an informed public to hold their council to account when exercising the ultimate sanction at the ballot box.

    That is why it is important that when there is an election, the public take the opportunity to exercise their right to vote.”

    So, there you have it!!! Stated in plain english, pretty much as bluntly as it can be phrased, by a senior Government Minister, a Secretary of State no less! If you don’t like secrecy, alleged corruption, lack of consultation, lack of accountability etc., then the only solution available is to use YOUR vote at the next local council elections (in May 2015) to vote in a different set of councillors.


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