Something has happened in Hailsham this past week that highlights exactly what is wrong with politics nationwide.
One of the growing problems in Hailsham is the amount of ‘low-level’ crime involving young people that’s making life a misery for many residents. The fact that in the past two years we have lost the youth facility at the Hailsham East Community Centre and the Hailsham Youth Club at the community college is no coincidence.
So I wrote to Matt Dunkley, the head of children’s services at the county council, asking what plans he had to tackle the issue of youth facilities. To put a little pressure on him to come up with something meaningful, I put out a press release saying I’d written to him and making the point that doing nothing was not an option.
I wasn’t born yesterday so didn’t expect this to achieve great results on its own – it was aimed at creating some momentum. What I also didn’t expect was a vehemently angry reaction by two leading members of Hailsham Town Council, Ian Haffenden and Nick Ellwood. They put out a counter-release accusing me and one of our Hailsham county council candidates of ‘misinformation’. Well I wish it was misinformation, because then we’d still have the two youth facilities that have most assuredly disappeared!
I have a problem here. One of the central planks of my involvement in politics is that I want to work towards better politics. The idea that ‘our side’ has everything right and ‘the other side’ has got everything wrong is a nonsense. When we discuss problems in groups, we work towards solutions, not towards being able to say with righteous indignation ‘they’ve got it wrong’. It should be the same in politics.
I believe those who have lost faith in politics as a means of good governance have become disillusioned with the bickering, point-scoring, playground mentality that characterises Prime Minister’s Questions. They want people of different persuasions to work together to find solutions.
So how should I react to Messrs Haffenden and Ellwood? I’m aware they’re former LibDems who don’t hold much of a candle for their erstwhile colleagues, but I wasn’t around when they left, so I start from scratch with them. I’m also aware they have been doing their own work on the youth issue through Hailsham Town Council, which is good.
But they have put out what by any standards is a spoiling press release, which has led to the story being reported in the local press NOT as a call for improved youth facilities in Hailsham but as a spat between two warring political factions? It has made me very angry, but if I say that, am I engaging in exactly the kind of slanging match that drives people away from politics and keeps voting rates dangerously low? That’s my dilemma on this.
Mr Dunkley’s response to my letter – delivered incidentally to the media rather than to me – was that the county council is ‘listening’. This is OK-ish, but doesn’t go nearly far enough. We need more youth facilities in Hailsham – not an excessive amount so we spoon-feed teenagers, but more than we have now. All of us have a role to play, but we must fight the problem, not each other.