It’s time to give residents a vote on everything, say Conservatives

Bins and council tax pledges comes with plan to change how Town Hall works

Thursday, 31st March — By Richard Osley


Pierre Andrews, fourth from right, among the Tory election campaigners

THE Tories have pledged to crack open decision-making at the Town Hall with a manifesto pledge to hold a referendum-style vote on every major policy.

While the party’s list of promises for the May 5 elections – published on Thursday – include familiar items such as restoring weekly bin collections and reducing council tax, the Conservatives are backing a shake-up of how Camden operates.

They promise to “give you a vote on all council decisions through a participatory democracy online platform as used in cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Kyiv.”

Asked to explain how this would work, Pierre Andrews, who is working on the idea and is standing as a candidate in Primrose Hill, said it was an attempt to end consultations that made no difference and to get more people engaged in the work of the council.

“It is something which began in Brazil in the 1980s with meetings in community halls. Then, it was by people in poverty choosing between water and electricity.

“Although in Belo Horizonte and Port Allegre, it was used by left-wing groups, it is actually something which has been used by parties of all colours across central Europe now.”

He added: “We actually already have something like this in the UK where people can gather a petition and if enough people sign, then it will be debated. If an even greater number sign, then there will be a vote on it in the House of Commons.”

He said that he had seen systems of this kind in action while living and working in Rennes, France – including a local government placement where he studied communication, as well as dropping in and observing meetings in which Emmanuel Macron’s team surveyed policy ideas at the start of his journey to the presidency.

“People would vote on whether a park should be put here, or a pedestrian crossing should be put there,” he said.

“There are online platforms which can be used to do this but it would also encourage physical meetings where people could argue for something they wanted.”

He said the growth of technology made it easier to run such a scheme and for those not connected to the internet, rooms of computers could be made available in council buildings, such as the Town Hall and libraries.



“The 18-24 group are the least likely to vote, we know that, but I saw these groups coming forward in France,” Mr Andrews said.

“They liked having that say in how to make their areas better, and when new people moved in it enabled them to take part and feel connected.”
But he added: “This isn’t just about having a vote, it’s about making sure there is a debate.

“In Camden, people are fed up with the lack of engagement – here in Primrose Hill, it might be not getting a proper say on the closure of King Henry’s Road or the cladding on the Chalcots.

“Camden either doesn’t run consultations or runs them and then ignores the response. There is only so long that can go on before there has to be some change to the way things work.”

The ruling Labour group has previously defended itself on claims that it does not properly consider residents’ views, and at the last full council meeting finance chief Councillor Richard Olszewski reeled off a list of citizen assemblies and community conversations that had been held.

The New Journal covered Labour’s manifesto launch last week.

The Lib Dems and the Greens are yet to publish their pledges.

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