Gavin Maclure's Musings

My take on politics locally, nationally and internationally

Councillors are elected to vote not abstain

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I was not able to make the Ipswich Borough Full Council meeting last Wednesday as I was away on business so I wasn’t able to take up my usual position as scribe for the blogosphere. Instead, my fellow Tory blogger, Kevin Algar from A Riverside View, kindly stepped into the breach to report on proceedings. His excellent report can be found here and yet again the blogosphere trumps the dead tree press over at the Morning Evening Star for political reporting and commentary in Ipswich.

In reading Kevin’s report, I was disappointed to see that “Conservative Councillors all Abstained” on the ‘Taking Decision Making Closer to the People’, also known as Area Committees, paper. Now, I am no advocate of this Labour policy by a long shot: it is a classic case of ‘command and control Socialism” which will do the opposite to the title of the paper. I can’t understand how taking community engagement from community halls to the austere and formal environment of Committee Rooms at Grafton House will help take decision-making closer to the people of Ipswich. It won’t. But, of course, Labour don’t want to have the inconvenience of having to associate with us great unwashed do they? It’s not as if they really care about the common man anyway.
But putting the weaknesses of Labour’s policy to one side, I believe it was wrong for Conservative councillors to abstain. Councillors are elected by their constituents to represent them at the Council and when you are in Opposition, as the Tories are, the Full Council meeting is the only place you can exercise your vote on behalf of your residents. To not vote For or Against but instead to do nothing is, frankly, a cop out. They might as well have not bothered turning up.
In the House of Commons when a vote is called (which will be counted by tellers) there are only two lobbies: the No lobby and the Aye (Yes) lobby. There is not an Abstain lobby. If the MP decides not to vote, he does not turn up to the preceding debate. In fact, any MP who doesn’t vote (unless they are ill) really does not deserve his place on the green benches and neither does a councillor deserve their seat in the council chamber.
Now, this isn’t just an issue with the Conservatives. Labour abstained many a time on Ipswich Borough Council when there was a Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration, which also demonstrated contempt for their electorate, and Liberal Democrat Cllr Ken Bates also abstained during the Area Committees vote on Wednesday.
I just hope all councillors (and MPs) take heed and understand they have a duty to represent the views of those who sent them to the chamber. Abstaining is shirking responsibility.
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Author: gavinmaclure

IT professional; political blogger, former Conservative councillor

One thought on “Councillors are elected to vote not abstain

  1. Don't forget that some MPs like to positively abstain by going through both lobbies.I totally agree with you though Gavin, it is irresponsible for an entire group to abstain on a policy they clearly dislike. Either back it or sack it!Cllr Bates explained his abstentionm though, was because the principals behind the paper were Liberal, but he didn't trust Labour to act in a Liberal way so felt he had to abstain.

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