During the silent hours a night owl “clicked” on an East Devon Watch post creating an historic moment …………….the MILLIONTH hit!
To mark this significant milestone “Old Owl” has written three reflections on what led to the creation of the blog, what has happened since it started, culminating with the “changing of the Guard” in EDDC last year.
Appropriately this milestone has been reached just as we prepare to embark on the County Council elections. Are the people of Devon in 2020 [oops should read 2021] ready to follow the example of the East Devon electorate who voted for local change in 2019?
“New Owl” will be posting these timely reflections on successive days.
Observations by “Old Owl”
Part One – Why?
When this blog started in 2014, never did OA think that it would last this long, let alone reach its milestone birthday of ONE MILLION hits! So, OA looks back at how this came to be.
Many years ago, during the 1990’s, OA had its first inklings that all was not well in East Devon, and particularly at East Devon District Council. It became obvious to anyone with half a political brain that the district was being run by a cabal (“A cabal is a group of people who are united in some close design, usually to promote their private views or interests in an ideology, a state, or another community, often by intrigue and usually unbeknownst to those who are outside their group) of highly influential councillors (Conservative) and officers (under the savvy leadership of one Mark Williams). It was further obvious that this group expected (and had hitherto been correct) that this state of affairs would long continue.
There were so many things to point to. The rather opaque way Cranbrook was foisted on an unknowing population, rewards of official posts to those who toed the strict line that the ruling group maintained (paid offices, promotions, new jobs). It was too easy to identify these people, but they made it impossibly difficult to follow their trails.
Towards the end of the 1990’s there began to be murmurings amongst the voting populations that these issues existed but very little idea about how to go about changing things. With alarming regularity the “same old” group went about its business almost unseen.
In the early 2000s and the decade that followed, it became impossible to ignore that this group was not only highly influential but also had many conflicts of interest. Planning applications directly and indirectly connected to these individuals seemed to sail through the planning process, developers of large housing schemes being particularly welcomed, especially if they had good connections already in the area. While those of people not connected to them floundered endlessly. There were flagrant breaches of trust and manipulation of events. One such event springs to mind: Councillor Malcolm Florey, who moved permanently to France but who was considered to be perfectly capable of taking decisions about East Devon from there:
Evidence slowly began to mount that things were in a desperate situation – action was needed. The council was basically run at this time by the leadership of East Devon Conservatives (the notorious Sarah Randall-Johnson followed by Paul Diviani and a small group of trusted Tory councillors) and a smooth partnership of Mark Williams (CEO), Karim Hassan (director of Regeneration and now Chief Executive of Exeter City Council) and the no-less redoubtable head honcho of Planning – Kate Little. Ably assisted by highly development supporting councillors such as disgraced ex-Councillor Graham Brown. This group was effectively a developer-friendly team, working for the most part in the shadows. Karim Hassan was eventually replaced by the now also departed Richard Cohen who easily stepped into Hassan’s shoes.
At about this time, a young woman from Ottery St Mary decided enough was enough and mounted a campaign to flush out the information that people so desperately needed. A number of highly-publicised demonstrations were led by her at The Knowle (EDDC HQ) and the ruling group began to get VERY nervous. When she easily succeeded in obtaining a district council seat at Ottery St Mary, the nervousness VASTLY increased. She had defeated the then Leader of the Council (Randall-Johnson) and the writing was well and truly on the wall that change was about to come.
Here OA must once again stress that Claire Wright NEVER has any involvement in East Devon Watch (no matter what those who would like it to be so think), which has ALWAYS been run by independent authors). It just so happened that EDW proved to be just about the only outlet at that time that gave her campaign wide publicity – local newspapers simply parroting the propaganda of the leading group.
It is fair to say that Ms Wright had a baptism by fire. Never had an independent councillor been subject to so much vitriolic and misogynistic behaviour from Conservatives on the council. She was treated with total disdain and attempts were constantly made to destroy her and her reputation. She responded valiantly and fearlessly – and in time, as she found her feet, scored notable successes in bringing transparency to the long-concealed machinations of the Conservative majority.
And what machinations they were …
Times were about to change …