So, we have had the meeting and the proposals for Direct Action on Dale Farm were voted through. The meeting was at the Towngate Theatre with an audience of around 200, both pro and anti-clearing the illegal Dale Farm site. Councillors kept the debate measured and there was no trouble, though there was a considerable police presence just in case.
One thing that was a little depressing was the content of some of the opposition speeches. Firstly, they quoted getting emails supposedly from disgruntled members of Basildon Council staff who were concerned that a decision on Dale Farm could mean that they lost their jobs because of the cost. Conservative Councillors had such emails too, but had the wit to check to see if the people were really Council staff. Guess what? They weren't. It was a deception that the Conservatives at least were too bright to fall for.
Secondly, a couple of the Labour Councillors tried to directly link the use of reserves at Dale Farm with supposed Council cuts to services. Now it should be understood that reserves are capital, and are not used for day to day expenditure, and that Council services are provided from the revenue budget, which is not affected by the monies required to clear Dale Farm. So, I listened with some surprise at a couple of the Labour speeches. Do they really not understand the difference between capital and revenue? You might expect that from ordinary members of the public, but from elected Councillors who want to run the Council one day it would verge on the tragic.
This whole matter has created a great deal of press interest, which has been handled by the Leader to my relief. I head him on Radio 4 this morning for example. The press coverage has been generally neutral to supportive and I am very glad of it. This isn't because I think that the people of Basildon Borough need persuading that their Council is doing the right thing; the vast majority want Planning Law applied fairly and so support the Council's position. This is because the coverage should make government sit up and listen.
We are in this situation because of failures of national policy, and only government can sort it out.
Blair and Brown didn't care, let's hope that Cameron and Clegg do.