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Tuesday 12 May 2009

An Electoral Caution

Many potential voters took a sceptical view of political parties, even before Expensegate. This is not surprising, given the methods sometimes used by parties to get themselves into power.

Not long after I arrived in Crewe, the council decided to relocate the War Memorial from its site by the town centre Marks and Spencer to a new and more prominent berth opposite Municipal Buildings. There was an outburst of indignation: petitions were drawn up, the council was accused of “desecration” (although no evidence that the site near M&S was sacred ground or the location of human remains was produced), and there were the usual accusations that anyone in favour of the move was not supporting our armed forces in their various deployments around the world.

And then came a round of council elections. Not surprisingly, given the hot air that was being generated on the subject, the War Memorial issue was raised by some voters. Labour and the Lib Dems did not major on it, but the Tories, shamelessly opportunist as ever, smelt an advantage. They, the electorate were assured, would “review” the move, and it would be referred to a panel of the great and the good if the Tories gained a majority on Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council (CNBC).

The elections were held, and the Tories got their majority. Referral of the War Memorial move followed, and then came the all too predictable result: the panel considering that move confirmed the original decision. The statue of Britannia was duly refurbished and re-dedicated on its new plinth opposite Municipal Buildings.

Otherwise, the new Tory council changed enough of the small free car parks – situated in areas with little on-street parking and originally put there for locals – into Pay and Displays to hack off many voters. Their last electoral performance in St Johns ward, at a time of national unpopularity for Labour, saw them not even make the top six. One of the locals’ car parks that became a P&D was in the middle of St Johns. Nowadays it spends most of its time empty.

That CNBC election was a bit like 1979 in miniature: the Tory promise was empty, and masked something rather more petty. Plus ├ža change, and all that.

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