Gosh, who knew?

“Today, professor Michael Clarke, vice-principal of Birmingham University, will deliver a report calling for a radical rethink of how the city [ of Stoke-on-Trent ] is governed. “We are dismayed at the extent to which the city’s political system is damaged,” he says. “There is a deep-seated malaise in the city’s politics. As a consequence, the people of Stoke-on-Trent have been short-changed.”

I could have told them that, along with many others, at any time since about 2001. In fact, I did, being interviewed on BBC radio a couple of times saying much the same, in relation to a homophobic whispering campaign against our excellent (and now ex-) elected-mayor Mike Wolfe. I also risked describing in detail the seedbeds of BNP support in the city, in my major 2002 project, but no-one wanted to know.

But now it’s almost too late, apparently…

“Senior local politicians, commentators and residents believe this city of 250,000 could be controlled by the BNP within three years.”

Clarke’s main solutions are said to be…

“a drastic cutting of councillors” [ from 60 to just 20, but also that, somehow, ] “political parties need to re-engage at a local level.”

But I wonder how we can re-engage in a manner that goes beyond the Council’s lip-service ‘public consultations’, without sufficient elected local councillors? The old Area Community Forum / Facilitation-service idea (i.e.: bypassing local councillors and going straight to ‘the grassroots’) has already been tried extensively in the city. It failed, dismally, as a political solution, and was wiped off the map — despite the sterling efforts of some (not all) of the ten area co-ordinators and generous publicity/arts support from AWM. And with the Forums went the funding for the excellent Community Wardens service, which conveniently allowed the vultures of Renew to come in and start to demolish some of the most vulnerable communities.

These proposals, as initially reported, sound to me like an excuse for some rotten-borough gerrymandering, aimed at ripping out the electoral goal-posts to prop up a crumbling Labour Party in the city. It might well stall the BNP until 2011 or 2013, although at what cost to local democracy? But ‘the law of unintended consequences’ suggests that they’ll find other forms in which to work. Possibly more ugly and/or intractable forms. As the ex-elected mayor Mike Wolfe says…

“They campaign in a way that none of us recognise.”

I’ll be interested to read Clarke’s full report when it’s published.

Update: 3rd Dec 08, front-page headline in the local Sentinel: “No Local Elections will take place in Stoke-on-Trent until 2011”. Told you so.