This week I attended the full council meeting, which turned out to be a bit of a marathon session running over two and a half hours. Some important debate was held, the highlights of which I’ve summarised below.
The meeting started with six questions from the public. These have to be submitted and approved in advance. One was about SEND provision in our schools, which is something that as a council we allocate proportionately more financial resource to than other councils. Another was about clearing fallen trees in Rising Sun Country Park. There were three environmental questions, all similar, that I think came from people linked to the local Green Party. The final question asked about the availability of youth services in the borough, noting the impact of funding cuts by central government in Westminster.
The main course of the meeting revolved around debating five ‘motions’. These are submitted by elected members of the political parties in order to focus the attention of the council towards matters that they believe to be topical and of importance. The first raised the issue of NHS hospital staff paying for parking; the second called for a ban on LGBT conversion therapy; the third was about cleaning up local political campaigning; the fourth was a ‘thank you motion’ for a councillor who has just stepped down after 30 years; and the fifth was another cynical attempt by the Tories to continue their attacks on new investment into local cycling infrastructure. Number 3 is the motion I’d like to say a bit more about.
The timing of this debate was important as we’ve just had the Camperdown by-election in the north west of the borough. The by-election hit the headlines when my opposite number here in Preston ward, Conservative councillor Liam Bones, was suspended by his own party for engaging in “gutter politics”. Since arriving on the local political scene a couple of years ago Cllr Bones has been spearheading the Conservative party’s campaigning in the borough. The shift in Conservative communication tactics over that period has been noted with increasing levels of concern across the political spectrum. The debate on Thursday night represented a collective “enough is enough” moment that can only be good for local people, in terms of ensuring that election material they receive is clear, fair and properly traceable. You can watch/listen to the debate via this link, it begins 55 mins into the recording.
My colleagues in the Labour Party proposed a set of pledges for all parties to get behind. These are:
- To always make it clear on election literature which party it is from
- To not abbreviate the name of your political party on an imprint
- To not impersonate local media to use as a party-political platform
- To always ensure postal vote sign-ups are sent direct to the council
- To make clear on any social media account which political party is behind it
- To treat other candidates with respect
- To not impersonate another political party on literature
- To uphold the highest standards of integrity which the public expect from us
Local residents will recognise that each of these points has specific relevance here as our area has been targeted by this kind of negative and deceptive campaigning. I’m pleased to say that when it came to the vote at the end of the debate the motion was accepted unanimously – yes the Tories agreed to it – even Cllr Bones. The task now is to be vigilant in ensuring that the pledges above are actually held to. Please keep your eyes peeled and let’s make sure this is a genuine watershed moment for cleaner, kinder politics in North Tyneside.
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