Two more political initiatives in our region over the weekend illustrate how anger is rising over the inertia of those who govern us, but also show a way forward for those politicians committed to reform
Campaigners against raw sewage in their rivers and the failure of their MP to act on it were out again on Saturday.
The Bacon Out group were canvassing in Diss, focusing on raw sewage being released into the Waveney in the town centre. Shoppers at Tesco and the nearby nursery complain of the stench in the car park.
The group are also angry at the failure of their MP, Richard Bacon, to act against the sewage crisis. He supported the government’s recent amendment which allowed water companies to continue to pump raw sewage into waterways, under the guise of a ‘gradual reduction’. But the amendment carried no timescale, which therefore allows the companies to continue with their present practices.
Bacon Out gathered over 150 signatures in an hour, on a petition demanding their MP act. At times shoppers were queueing up to add their names. Passers-by joined in the general mood, calling out their support, though any conversations almost invariably ended with a comment on Boris Johnson and ‘Partygate’.
One shopper explained her motive for adding her name to the petition. “They claim the choice is between sewage bubbling up into bathrooms after heavy rain, or letting it flow out untreated into the rivers.
“But this is the 21st century. We don’t accept that’s a realistic choice and it’s about time they got off their backsides and sorted it.”
More groups form to act against MPs’ failures on sewage
Bacon Out was formed spontaneously after an embarrassing email error by the MP. Bacon was accused of ignoring his constituents and failing to answer correspondence. But he managed to ‘cc’ the names of all his fiercest critics on a single email, instead of using ‘bcc’, thus both breaking data protection legislation and introducing them to each other.
But following that original initiative, there are now other non-party groups springing up in nearby constituencies, including Mid Norfolk, Central Suffolk, Bury St Edmunds, Waveney, North Norfolk and North West Norfolk. The overall group is known as East Angrier.
It is the intention of Bacon Out now to bring in other local and neighbourhood groups in the area with strong views on similar subjects regarding the environment.
… But elsewhere, local councillors show how it should be done
While many politicians ignore their voters and choose to play party games, in some places local politicos are coming up with innovative ways to connect with the public.
The brainchild of a local councillor in a Suffolk town has meant that, for a refreshing change, the politicians are putting themselves out to come to the people.
Caroline Page is a Liberal Democrat member of Woodbridge Town Council, as well as a long-standing and well-known Suffolk County Councillor. Before Covid and its lockdown, Page was perhaps the only councillor in Suffolk to hold a regular monthly surgery.
But during the long lockdown she began to wonder how effective those sessions were. She realised they made the assumption that the public understood what she was and what she can do, whereas in reality the public often have only a vague idea of how councils work and which are responsible for what services.
“I did a lot of pondering and wondered whether this was best for democracy,” she says. “People knew me, but did they know how they were represented? I thought all-inclusive surgeries was the answer. I also found that, on my own in the library where I had held the sessions, people were very reluctant to come into an enclosed room with only one person to talk to them.”
The answer, she felt, was for cross-party, cross-council surgeries, held somewhere where people wouldn’t feel inhibited. So now, Woodbridge has outdoor surgeries intended to have representatives of all the parties, and they are held on a prominent corner in the Thoroughfare, the main shopping street.
But they still needed some adjustments, as Page explains.
“The first one just before Christmas had too many councillors, and people ran a bit scared because they thought it was a glad-handing fundraiser for something.
“But now there is a rota. It should ideally have one representative of each of the three councils: county, district and town. It also displays photos of all 16 town councillors, by ward, and a description of what every councillor does.
The latest was on Saturday, when Page was joined at their trestle table by the Labour Mayor of Woodbridge, Sue Bale. This time the district council wasn’t represented, but as Page says: “We are hoping to persuade them of quite how important this regular face-to-face contact is.”
East Anglia Bylines is always interested in hearing of how people in our region are getting together to take back local politics for themselves. If you are part of a group, or setting up a group, or know of one, we would be pleased to hear from you. Please send us an email: editor@eastangliabylines