I had predicted a council meeting dominated by some key policy debates - the NHS, education and workfare. Instead I suspect this week's local newspaper headlines will be dominated by the internal workings of the local Conservative party. The controversy about Cllr Chowdary's deselection has received a lot of coverage and I have not commented on it previously as I don't know the facts better than any other member of the public (although Cllr Chowdary has always been very courteous in my experience). I think getReading is absolutely on the nail in describing the speech he made as 'extraordinary'.
From the point of view of residents it has to be worrying that a time when we are about to enter local elections to debate the future of the town the Conservatives are clearly too busy fighting each other to actually put forward their own policy agenda.
However it's worth looking at what their policy agenda is based on the things that their leader wants to be judged on, last night he asked to be judged on what they've brought forward to full council.
Their proposals (where they weren't a restatement of council policy) were to:
- Introduce an elected Mayor;
- Change the frequency of council elections from 3 out of 4 years to 1 out of 4 years
- To change the rules regarding questions from councillors at the start of council meetings.
None of these things are necessarily wrong in themselves (although I have real doubts about whether the first two are right for Reading) and the Labour councillors proposed that we looked at these issues in full, with a reports to come back after the elections when hopefully it can be looked at in a more dispassionate way.
However is this a party with a vision for Reading?
This is a sign of a party that is focused on what happens in the council chamber and not on people's neighbourhoods A sign of a party out of fresh ideas. A sign of a party that is out of touch with the real concerns of Reading's residents.
If they hope to fight an election on this basis I am sorry for their activists. I suspect however that what some in the party plan is to resort to smears against Labour. Don't be surprised if you get a leaflet through your door - especially if you live in Kentwood, Caversham or Church wards - in the next few weeks from the Conservatives with outlandish allegations against our candidates, policies and record.
Separately I was extremely angry last night about the Conservative response to the Labour motion on community schools. I will post on this separately when I've calmed down.