Monday, November 16, 2009

Exeter politics rather interesting

Exeter is rather an interesting place to live politically. Our county council, Devon, is Conservative; our city council is LibDem; and our MP, Ben Bradshaw, is Labour.

Yet even these facts hide further complexity. Devon County Council was LibDem until this year; on Exeter City Council there are roughly equal numbers of Labour, LibDem and Conservative councillors; and until 1997 the parliamentary seat was Conservative for much of its history.

So what's happening at the moment?

Devon County Council, which is based in Exeter, is having to make £20 million worth of cuts, including the loss of 500 jobs. Care homes look to be particularly badly affected.

In relation to Exeter City Council, we continue to wait for the long-delayed results of the Boundary Committee's review of local government in Devon. Like a Sword of Damocles hanging over us, the city's 800-year-old rights to take decisions about its own affairs could be removed at any time, without a vote by its inhabitants.

Having an MP from the governing party has not helped us with this issue, as with most other issues. Ben Bradshaw is a decent, well-liked chap, last week named Politician of the Year by Stonewall. He's often seen on his bicycle around the city, and he comes across very well both on television and in person. He claims far less in MPs' expenses than most of his colleagues; and he supported reform of the expenses system in 2008, well before the recent scandal.

But as a member of the Government since 2001, he never votes against the party line.

According to, Ben has voted for student top-up fees, ID cards, the Iraq war, nuclear power, the hunting ban, 90-day detentions without charge, and reduced Parliamentary scrutiny of new legislation.

Recently, Ben has...
  • jumped on the media bandwagon that centred on misquoting Emma Thompson on racism in Exeter and the University of Exeter.
  • lent credibility to the ridiculous suggestion to sell off the Met Office, at just the moment when we need the Met Office most focused on research in climate change rather than commercial shenanigans.
  • supported the proposal for 10 new nuclear power stations around the country, including Hinkley Point, less than 40 miles from Exeter (as the wind blows).
  • (on the plus side) pleaded with Transport Secretary over the £2 million the city council has to find to fund the Government's concessionary bus fare scheme. But we're not in the clear yet, and he makes no acknowledgment that it was his government that imposed the scheme without funding it properly.
2010 will herald elections for Exeter City Council and of course the General Election. Less parochially, it may be may-or-break year for our planet.

We live in interesting times.