Return to online meetings thanks to progressive alliance

(Which has become even more progressive, see below – Owl)

A view from East Devon Council Leader Paul Arnott (Exmouth Journal and sister publications)

It seems to happen every year, a period of scorchingly hot weather followed by a roof-leak-causing deluge. So often, August then turns out to be an absolute bust until, just as all hope is almost lost, September proves itself yet again to be the greatest month.

So keep the faith, East Devonian. I suspect we’ll all need our brollies in the coming weeks, but it is far from over. Revival is always just around the corner. Which brings me, with an inelegant crashing of the gears, to the politics of East Devon.

Now, despite being Leader of the council, I do try to spare this newspaper’s readers from too much of the hard stuff politically. Any local, or indeed national politician, with a decent nose is aware that most people mainly want to pay their taxes and see the services they have been promised being delivered. Local politics can be alienating.

However, East Devonian, you are a more interesting lot than that. A few months ago after the county council elections I bored you with the fact that the Conservatives had taken something over 22,000 votes across our district (yet took 10 seats at county) while the non-Conservatives managed around 29,000 votes (for two seats as it happens. Something awry there.)

What this suggests is that the old adage that you could put a blue rosette on a donkey in East Devon and it would get elected is not the sure proposition of yore. However, to turn what is clearly an interesting and probably centrist electorate – with a strong inclination to support social housing/the NHS/progressive social attitudes – the non-Tories need to get their act together. Now, I am not claiming that the cavalry is coming over the hill, but perhaps I can hear the sound of distant hooves. Because a few weeks ago at a by-election in Honiton a highly capable and serious young Labour councillor was elected to district, joining up with an existing Labour councillor to make two on the district council – historic.

After some friendly discussions in the following weeks, this Labour twosome decided – with permission of their party – to become part of the Democratic Alliance, the political group I lead at the council. In plain terms, their party allegiance is and will always be Labour, but their group is the Democratic Alliance.

There they now share an umbrella with my own party, the Independent East Devon Alliance, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and an excellent Independent from Exmouth.

I want to be cautious here: one swallow does not make a spring. Yes, there is a cry across the country for the non-Tory interest to show leadership rather than navel-gazing, and perhaps this example of genial co-operation presages that. People talk of “progressive alliances”, but you have to be careful there.

I can already imagine the twitching, Twitter fingers of some of the more febrile local Tories barking out that “I always said Arnott was worse than Corbyn”. I fully expect the accusation that because we have embraced two highly talented young councillors wearing the Labour badge then we are rolling out the bright red carpet to Russian tanks and Chinese cyber-warriors.

However, on Monday this week progressive thought bore its first fruit. The Tories reflexively opposed the eminently sensible proposal – their own government having betrayed their promise to legislate for this – to return to Zoom meetings, just until January. Despite the Tories’ Johnsonian rhetoric on behalf of the Me First party, all the other councillors present voted in the interest of staff and member safety to return to Zoom. This calm decision is greatly to the credit of our new council chair, Ian Thomas, and the officers who helped him with the legalities. Parish and Town Councils of East Devon, take note … could you do the same?

A sensible solution to a huge problem – that’s what a progressive alliance can enable.

[Owl notes from the EDDC website that Cllr Paul Millar is now the other Labour councillor referred to above.]