10 October 2016
OPINION by editor Patrick Phelvin
Keyboard warriors should get stuck in
Newsflash – most of our politicians are hard-working, diligent and in it for the right reasons.
That comment might surprise you, given that it’s come from a journalist. Most of us relish the chance to get stuck in to elected members of Parliament and councils when there’s even a whiff of wrongdoing. It’s been that out relationship with politicians should be akin to dogs and lampposts, and I tend to agree.
With the advent of social media, all of us can ask questions of our elected representatives, and that’s a great thing. But I’m increasingly concerned about the nastiness of the tone which some choose to engage with political debate.
Last week, the Echo published a local politics story detailing a disagreement between Exeter’s Green Party and Labour members relating to the finances of the St Sidwell’s Point development.
Under this seemingly innocuous article, one reader – calling herself Bex Elizabeth – opined that “big wigs will never change, we should probably just start shooting them and get rid of the problem altogether.”
Bex, who according to her Facebook profile is a gardener from Budleigh Salterton, was on a roll.
When the Echo published an appeal for members of the public to join a pothole repair scheme, she said: “I’d be more inclined to take that tarmac and shove it up their backsides/down their throats…so err…no”
Bex clearly has a problem with councils, so I have a suggestion for her. Perhaps working from within for the reform she so clearly desires would be more useful than sitting on her sofa venting her bile on the internet?
For a start, she could probably find a co-opted place on her parish council – most have spaces available because there are not enough people prepare to give their time to them. While the rest of us sit in front of Gogglebox, she can sit in a draughty town hall, struggle with budgets, complaints and tricky decisions.For this she will receive an annual allowance of about £120.
Gain election to a district or county council and the rewards are greater, although one councillor I know says it will equate to well below the minimum hourly wage, more evenings and weekends will have to be sacrificed. But the decisions are harder, balancing the need for jobs and homes against the need to protect green spaces is a big issue in Devon right now.
Whatever decisions she makes, you can expect criticism from rival parties. Heaven forbid you make a mistake. Councillors can end up in prison and are held to a higher degree of accountability and standards than you might expect.
Yes, there are some bad councillors, but most do it because they care about their communities and want to change things for the better.
So good luck with your political career, Bex: you can count on the Echo to be a critical friend.