On a recent, rare trip to see my folks in Cambridgeshire I had a few hours to spare in London between trains. I thought I'd visit the newly revamped Battersea Power Station (which was, quite frankly, stunning) and then have a bit of a walk.
I chose to walk from Westminster, where, who knows, I thought, I might bump into Simon Jupp and we could grab a coffee together; then via Prowler on Old Compton Street, to Tottenham Court Road.
As I left the growing, late afternoon shadow of St Stephen's tower and the Houses of Parliament, wandering along Whitehall, passing government department after government department on my way, I became overwhelmed by the feeling that I was transversing the cogs of a giant machine. A machine that decides upon everything we can and can't do, yet is entirely disconnected from the real world, and from us. I don't know why I felt like this - I lived in London for many years and never experienced such stirrings. The faceless civil servants drifted past, exp
ressionless, headed back to their well appointed homes in Docklands, Abbey Wood and Surbiton. The light dimmed further as the buildings appeared to grow taller, more menacing until eventually I reached Trafalgar Square and the tumult seemed to immediately lift, replaced by the noise of tourists and the low hum of electric taxi movements. This was both saddening, yet also shone a light on how I've been feeling and acting recently.
I've felt immense frustration with everything political at the moment, both locally and nationally. And I've felt the need to use social media to express that. The thing is, I can't let anything go. If someone, the aforementioned Mr Jupp for example, is critical but is bending facts to make that criticism, I feel the need to say so. So what of it?
In a recent exchange, Mr Jupp suggested I should focus on helping my residents rather than writing 'inflammatory posts full of gross generalisations'. He's probably right about the first part.
But then I think of my walk through the Westminster Machine. I feel that, by taking a few minutes to respond to a post with corrections and challenging questions, I am helping residents. So many of the problems we face as councillors stem from the dismissive, distant attitude perpetuated by those at Westminster. They all know, for example, we are all struggling to carry out even our statutory duties. They know we cannot raise funds ourselves, save for a small percentage come council tax time - and nor would we want to. They know we haven't got enough money to carry out anything but the most rudimentary of services, and they're the first to criticise when we carry them out to a substandard level.
But I don't think they know, or at best choose to acknowledge, the real life effects the squeeze on councils has. The elderly stuck in hospital as there's no space in homes or staff to support them at home, the children who are about to meet their 7th social worker in two years, the council house tennant who's house is cold because there's not enough staff or money to repair the boiler, the kids sat in a freezing dining hall eating their inadequate free school meal.
Everyone from Prime Minister to the lowest level of civil servant will say they do. But even if they are aware, everything for them is one step removed. A sorry story read by said civil servant in an email is unfortunate, may elicit a sigh, but ultimately for the cogs in the machine, these sadnesses don't matter, or aren't allowed to matter.
What angers me most is when a challenge or question is met by a response which merely turns and criticises the council's, never answering the initial challenge. Yes, we're not perfect as a council. BUT WE HAVEN'T GOT ANY MONEY!
Pointing out these things, by throwing electronic stones at the monolith over social media, is ultimately, I guess, pointless. But I need to do it. Maybe, just maybe, one of these stones may lodge itself between the teeth of the Westminster cogs, and the machine may be forced to stop for a while and have a good hard think about what they're doing. But I doubt it.
In short, I'll carry on using social media to vent my frustrations in the echo Chambers within.
If you have anything to do with council business, any problems with housing, refuse, something you think I should be angry about, anything really, please email me on Jwhibley@eastdevon.gov.uk