There is no end to it. Corruption is everywhere and associated with high levels of incompetence on all sides. In the UK the former Prime Minister Boris Johnson is sinking ever deeper in alleged corruption with the Chairman of the BBC now involved and reportedly close to having to resign over the scandal that he allegedly helped the then Prime Minister Boris Johnson obtain a massive loan.
In the past few weeks I have been trying to investigate some local problems in Kent motivated by rumours and allegations against local councils. The picture is the same. I am making no suggestion of corruption at any level despite everyone I meet making remarks that mirror what is going on in Brussels, London and so far as I can tell everywhere else. All I can say is that some of the decisions taken, or not taken, by local councils are at the very least odd. The fact that councillors have resigned, or are resigning in number, is is at the very least curious.
Perhaps politicians and officials everywhere should recall the Chartist Movement. This was a movement that began on May 21st in 1838 when 150,000 citizens gathered on Glasgow Green to demand democratic rights withheld from the working classes. This became a movement that struck fear in Europe and across the globe at a time when political power was monopolised by the few.
The People’s Charter that resulted from the massive protest movement became known as the new Magna Carta after the “constitution” written in 1215 on parchment. That neither is satisfactory is without question. But one thing the Peoples’ Charter did was to give control of local authorities to the citizens. Now, here in Kent, there is every indication that even that level of democratic control is under serious question.
The issues are the disposal by various authorities of community assets. There was reportedly “uproar” at a meeting of Walmer Parish Council – recently renamed Town Council although Walmer is a part of the town called Deal – over plans to build on land known locally as the Peace Garden. I understand the land was donated by the outgoing Royal Marines for the “benefit of the local community” and currently hosts sporting facilities.
More puzzling is the issue of a building known as the Regent Cinema. It has a much loved and iconic facade but was sold by the Dover Council which has authority over Deal and Walmer in 2010 for a give away price on “the understanding” that the buyers would renovate it as a cinema. My understanding is that the buyers were identified as a cinema chain that later denied any involvement.
In 2015 a campaign group called Reopen the Regent was formed and in 2016 the Dover District Council was drawn into a public meeting the result of which was that the owners were ordered to cease trading from the building. Despite large public demonstrations over ensuing years plans approved in 2019 ran out of time in 2022. Today the hope that the building, which is now in a terrible state of disrepair, will reopen or even that its iconic frontage will survive are fading.
Natalie Elphick, the local Member of Parliament last week issued a press release that concluded “This has gone on long enough. It’s time for action on the Regent”. My information from many locals is that the building in now is so dilapidated that restoration is not on the cards and a new block of flats is a virtual certainty.
As in the “Qatar-gate” scandal large sums of money are involved and ordinary citizens views consequently ignored. The original Chartist manifesto called for annual elections on the basis that if politicians don’t do what you want you can vote them out. That the reforms that followed nationally were inadequate but at the local level much more effective is significant.
That there is a need for deep seated democratic reform in the UK and across Europe and, from the media reporting, also in the United States. Russia is a classic example of how money and power favour a wealthy elite with consequences affecting the entire world.
Maybe citizens at the local level across Britain and the EU should consider what they can do to bring about reform. Standing for election on the basis of citizens interests would be a good start.
It might even become a new chartist style movement.
Corner Cafe, Deal, Kent. 12/02/2023