The responses to the Boundary commissions proposals to move Westgate Ward into the Forest of Dean were published on Tuesday and Richard Graham, the MP for Gloucester was well prepared having called a meeting of all the Community Leaders in the City to discuss the responses and see what we can do about the next steps. The long and distinguished invitee list managed to produce 5 attendees, and I think that the meeting did achieve 2 things, firstly the need to get residents to see the 5 alternative proposals to the Boundary Commission proposal, and secondly Richard learned that while he can mock, cajole and try to force his own agenda, that wasn’t really going to happen.
The Attendees included myself, representation from the City Centre Community Partnership, the Hempsted Residents Association, Quedgeley Parish council and Barton and Tredworth Community Partnership as well as Richard and one of his Aides, Tom Skinner. It was great to finally meet Tom after debating with him through the Internet amongst other things.
The meeting got off to a good start with agreement that the Boundary commission website was rather rubbish to get a view of public feeling and that we could do something positive to get Gloucester residents some greater clarity on what the alternative suggestions are and encourage people to respond and see which one they prefer. Even though many people have responded already, many people may want to change their view on seeing one of the other proposals, and to be able to compare one with another, or it may reinforce their original opinion.
There are 5 main Alternatives to the Boundary commission proposal, in essence these are:
- Richard Graham wants to Split Westgate Ward and put Hempsted into the Forest of Dean.
- Labour Party suggest keeping Westgate and move Hucclecote.
- Liberal Democrat Leader, Jeremy Hilton suggests Moving Kingsway into Stroud
- City Centre community Partnership suggest moving Hucclecote
- Hempsted Residents Association suggest moving Quedgeley Severn Vale
It was quite interesting to see the different opinions, and it all started out quite well, discussing the differing options and how we can make it easy to compare and contrast and more importantly get public involvement.
However it started to get more interesting when it became apparent that really what this was about was to try to influence people that Richards submission was the only real answer. He made a very bold statement in saying “let’s be clear, you are allowed to split boundaries” which I had to pull him up on, because the Boundary commission are quite clear and I quoted (having taken it with me) that only in exceptional circumstance AND if no viable alternative exists. He was also told this in the Public hearings in Bristol by the Boundary Commission representative, it’s just clear he doesn’t want to listen. He then started to pick holes in the other suggestions, particularly the Labour and CCCP version. However the only real argument that he could put forward about them is that it could affect people in Tewkesbury as the Boundary Commission would have to do further work, to which my response was “So, that’s not really our problem”. And its not, that is what the Boundary commission are there for. He did try to say that a minister did say that it was ok, but neglected to mention the impartial nature of the Boundary Commission, and also that when he brought it up on the floor of the house, he was rebuffed and “told off”. But hey, I guess the facts are not that important.
I did aim to be a “Good Boy” as I was not there on behalf of the Labour Party, I was there in my community capacity but as he had not officially invited the Labour Party to the meeting, nor Jeremy Hilton as the other proposal author I did feel I had to step up on both fronts. It seemed a bit odd to be discussing the relevant merits of proposals with only 3 of the Authors present. He states quite firmly that the Labour position was “quite frankly” ridiculous to which I had to highlight that the Labour position was quite clear, we do not want this change at all. The Conservative Government brought this review in, if Richard had done his homework at the beginning, he could have brought in an amendment to head off this problem, which was not unforseen even I wrote about it before the bill came round, so the Labour party were making the best of a bad situation.
He then suggested that both Labour and the CCCP needed to tell people what our Plan B was, if our proposal is not taken on what would we do instead? To which he was asked what is alternative was, and he doesn;t have one, it’s either his way or Westgate goes to the Forest. So it was very clear that what he wanted was to have us support his suggestion as our plan B so he could say something along the lines of “he has broad support” or some such. Well it was quite clear that he can not say that as a result of that meeting.
I did feel sorry for Tom Skinner, he had looked through all the responses to the proposals, (a couple of thousand) and had obviously been up to his eyeballs in it. But that did pay off for Richard because he could highlight the lack of Gloucester Labour Councillors who had written to support the Labour Proposal, in fact only 2 did, myself and Kate Haigh. Now I can argue that we all took part in the review, we debated it at CLP level and we were all behind the submission, but it is a pretty poor show from our Labour representation especially when it took so little effort to reply, I really did expect better. Its simple statistics like that which make us look very weak.
So in terms of moving forward, I would encourage people to consider all the proposals, personally I don’t agree with Richards Proposal as the
fundamental aspect of ward splitting will make things more complicated and therefore is fundamentally flawed. The other 4 proposals I think are all valid and worth consideration and I really want to look at the Hempsted RA and Jeremy Hiltons suggestion in more detail to see how it stacks up. What I am clear on is that the Boundary commission proposal can not stand.
I did like one suggestion of Richards though, in that getting the leaders of community groups round a table like that was a really good thing, and we should do it on a more regular basis, especially on less ‘Party political’ matters, it could be a really useful forum.