Louth Eye
 A guide to Louth in Lincolnshire since 2004

The Nostalgia Party Show Their True Colours

May 21st 2013

To do: drink tea, polish brogues, re-establish British Empire

Lincolnshire County Council controls a budget of just over a billion pounds. Bear that in mind as I discuss the highlights of the Lincolnshire County Council meeting of Friday, 17th May, the first meeting after the elections, and the début for many new UKIP councillors.

Chris Pain, the UKIP councillor for Wainfleet and Burgh, is the subject of a campaign by HOPE Not Hate which highlights accusations of alleged racism. You can read their open letter to Nigel Farage, and screenshots of Facebook posts made on Chris Pain's account (PDF). Whether or not these are proven, his actions at the council meeting aren't in any doubt. And his first question as a councillor at the first LCC meeting was to ask about cutting translation costs.

Martin Hill, the Conservative, said "We've already reduced it from £54, 000 to £43, 000." He then mentioned court cases and child protection as reasons for keeping the service, saying "I'm afraid there is a necessity for this."

Robin Hunter-Clarke, the UKIP councillor for Skegness South, made a much less auspicious début with a complaint about the council leader's dog, hardly a matter of much concern to the residents of Lincolnshire. Martin Hill responded by telling him to "grow up and be less childish."

The racism that dare not speak its name

The shocking part of this meeting was UKIP's response to Labour councillor Robert Parker's motion about the equal representation of people from all ethnic backgrounds. This is pretty similar to one passed in 2007. Councillor Parker summed up the Lincolnshire declaration as "We believe in a diverse and multi-racial heritage. We believe people from all walks of life and all backgrounds are a source of cultural, social and economic strength."

The declaration is a pretty bland statement about supporting and representing all of the people in Lincolnshire, in other words. Conservative councillor Christine Talbot said "I'm delighted to be able to support this motion today." Her sentiment was characteristic of the response from five of the six parties.

Then Chris Pain stood up to speak. "I cannot support the document for one reason, and one reason alone: it actually pushes forward the concept of multiculturalism. I think this is one of the fundamental things that is wrong with our society. We have got to encourage people to integrate in our society, learn to speak English, and take on our language."

"UKIP's stance is not racist," he insisted.

It went to a recorded vote, and all 16 of the UKIP councillors abstained, whilst the 60 other councillors present voted in favour of it.

So they're not racist, but they won't support a pledge to treat people in Lincolnshire equally? No, I don't understand that either.

County no news

UKIP's next proposal was an attempt to cut costs by reducing the number of issues of County News, which comes out four times a year, to one issue yearly. "In these times of austerity we have got to look at stopping self-promotion of our councillors," Chris Pain explained.

This proposal came under fire from various sides.

Martin Trollope-Bellew, the Conservative councillor for Stamford Rural, said "about 14% of the uk population have no internet connection whatsoever, or can't use it. Lincolnshire being a low wage economy, that percentage might be considerably higher. ... If you want to do away with County News, how are you going to communicate with those people? Are you going to disenfranchise them?"

Louth South's John Hough said "To suggest that the county should only talk about the services it provides once a year is quite frankly absurd. ...The challenge is to get our message across on a continuous basis. ... The problem is this resolution a) doesn't make sense, and b) it's the wrong time, and in the wrong process."

"We've got 37 new councillors and 16 UKIP councillors who wouldn't have been here if this self-congratulation had been as successful as we thought it was," Labour's Robert Parker joked. "You don't want to be remembered after the first motion as the 'keeping the public in the dark party,'" he warned.

Labour's Nev Jackson pointed out that "the media is not as much interested in local issues as they once were. ... At many meetings there is no media presence whatsoever."

This is something I've noticed at council meetings myself. Granted, if I'm there that means there's at least one blogger in attendance, but local media are facing hard times. That means that they can't always pay staff to attend council meetings, and that's bad for local democracy.

Conservative Marc Jones said "The only people that win from non-communication with the public are people that choose to run political campaigns on only national issues." He described the motion as "either misguided or mischievous."

The Conservative Jackie Brockway expressed concern about the tone of the debate. "I am very concerned that there is a little theme developing which seems to be attacking the vulnerable."

This plan to reduce County News to one issue per year was chucked out. But put it all together: UKIP want to reduce the flow of information; they don't want translation services, and they don't want to sign up to the declaration of fair representation that every other party supports. Their concerns aren't the big ticket items like transport infrastructure or schools. Instead they're concerned with petty penny-pinching in areas that don't actually cost the council much money. If their aim was simply to make people feel uncomfortable, they've achieved that.

Speaking more generally, I've never seen such a carnival of cluelessness as the UKIP councillors demonstrated at this council meeting. Virtually every time the UKIP members opened their mouths, it was to say something cringe-worthy, inept, or liable to disenfranchise minority groups. And I'm not just talking about foreigners, I include people who can't use the internet as one of the minorities they don't seem to have thought about.

The webcast

You can view a full webcast of the council meeting. It's very long. The debate on multicultural representation starts at 1:26:54.

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