Tuesday, October 10, 2006

"Vote for Parent and Child Parking Bays? We'll throw you out of the Tory Group!"

I really liked a piece yesterday on the BBC Website - about Cameron hitting 40. It rang true:

Forget the politics, it's a 40-year-old father thinking aloud.

Have you noticed something about the Conservatives? Trying to look a bit more youthful, suddenly discovering that money isn't everything, obsessed with looking after the children.

Yes, it's a 40-year-old man thinking aloud. David Cameron has hit the big four-zero. And the Conservative party is reverberating with the anxieties familiar to anyone in this greying hair, growing kids' time-zone.

Forget the politics, just listen to the speeches.

"Think what it's like when you're left on your own to look after the kids. If I'm in charge on my own for just a few hours the place looks like a bomb's hit it. Imagine looking after children all on your own all the time."

What's that from? It was Cameron's big policy speech to the party conference last week in Bournemouth.

Bournemouth. That'll be nice for the kids. Bit of beach, they'll like that. Isn't there that monkey zoo nearby? Saw it on Animal Planet. Wanted to watch the football, but they'd hidden the remote...

Sorry, what was that? Yes, speech to the conference. Modernising. Green. Hospitals. Sorry, can't get that Balamory tune out of my head. Yes, taxes. I'll mention taxes. Wouldn't you like to know.

If you want to understand the changing face of the Conservatives, consider the obsessions of the fortysomething parent.

"Sorry. I've left the buggy in the restaurant."

Having children means discovering stuff like hospitals and schools. They're no longer just public services, they have a very private significance. They suddenly seem much more important than before.

Sit where fortysomethings gather and listen. They're not talking about Europe or macro-economics. They're talking about schools, houses and work. And how do you balance work with that over-riding obsession - children?

"Imagine trying to hold down a job with an employer who isn't understanding about the fact that you might have to disappear at a moment's notice..." As Cameron told his party's followers in Bournemouth.

If he'd carried on talking, the Conservatives would have committed themselves to buggies that you can fold one-handed and free counselling services for parents shell-shocked by four-hour nursery rhyme tapes for long journeys.

Here on Rochford District (34 Tories, 4 Lib Dems, I Independent) we now have our own 40-ish new-father Tory. He's a chap called Phil Capon and he and his wife Tracy are both councillors. Tonight we had a committee item on Parent and Child Parking Bays for council car parks:

The officers were recommending… doing nothing. Apparently there are some spaces that could be widened into Parent and Child spaces, but it would cost an estimated £500 per space (!) to adjust them, and then it might be a problem that they might be left empty when they could be occupied by non-parents.

However the item was up for debate by councillors. The committee has 9 Tories (2 of them didn't turn up), 1 independent (who didn't turn up) and 1 Lib Dem (me) When the chairman of the committee, Phil Capon , began speaking, it looked like we would get some spaces agreed:

"Since becoming a father my eyes have been opened to the many issues and problems that the parents and carers of children face. I can appreciate what my residents have been telling me for some time.

To return to your car and find you are unable to get your child back in his or her car seat due to the thoughtlessness of others is potentially dangerous and annoying.

I don't advocate the loss of parking bays but merely that end bays should be designated 'parent and child"

We continually hear that we must prevent the High Streets from dying and that 'out of town' shopping centres are luring people away. This is true - they appreciate the problems and offer suitable parking bays.

We can not only show our commttment to child safety but also that we support local businesses."

I felt quite good at this point as I was on balance in favour of the idea and it looked like it was going to happen. BUT THEN - a sombre Cllr Capon continued to speak:

Sadly members, my dream is not to be. Due to the blinkered views of other members, who I can only assume care nothing for the wellbeing of children and who don't want local shopping centres to survive, a wonderful chance is being lost.

The "whip" is on, I cannot vote against it otherwise I lose my right to represent ny residents. Morally , I cannot vote for the recommendation so I will abstain"

The situation became clear. Cllrs Phil and Tracy Capon had raised the item in the private Tory group meeting. They'd lost out in a vote to the Tory 'dinosaurs' . Then the Tory leadership had enforced a whip, so that if Phil Capon voted for Parent and Child parking bays, he'd be thrown out of the Tory group.

After Capon spoke, there was an embarassed silence. i jumped in and proposed allowing some Parent and Child parking spaces but didn't get a seconder. So Tory leader Terry Cutmore proposed having no Parent and Child Bays and Cllr Tony Humphries seconded that.

I then scornfully said that in 20+ years on the council I'd never seen any political party impose a whip on such a small item. The Tories then won the vote 5-1 with 2 abstentions.

A big mistake by the Tory leadership tonight. If they'd let Phil Capon vote with his conscience, the issue would have been over in 5 minutes. But now it won't be forgotten so quickly, and it shows them in a bad light.

1 comment:

Kim Ayres said...

Well I turn 40 in two weeks. I still don't think I'd ever be able to vote Tory though.

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