COLUMN: Are minorities ever heard?

UKIP County Leader, Mike Glennon
UKIP County Leader, Mike Glennon

UKIP’s West Sussex County Council opposition leader, Mike Glennon, considers whether Minorities are ever heard.

Voice of Minorities – Who Listens?

With possibly 70 million people in this land (that’s including the multitude we don’t even realise are here, of course), we must surely have a lot of minorities. Some might say we have 70 million minorities, given that each and every one of us is a unique entity.

In more practical terms, nearly all of us belong to a distinct minority of one sort or another. My wife is Chinese Malaysian. Certainly, I belong to one myself, by way of my religion and in these gloriously, politically-correct times, it often makes me chuckle that there is still a huge, overt constitutional discrimination against us, which not even the most ardent liberal is remotely concerned about. Let’s not get bogged down in it here, however, as it merely relates to the right to sit upon a certain chair in London and nobody seems interested anyway.

In the arena of current politics there are plenty of minority parties, but perhaps we should define what that actually means before we go any further. Not quite as easy as it sounds. Should one define minority parties as any party, excluding the party with the largest number of seats in that assembly? On that basis Labour is a minority party at Westminster.

On the other hand, should we define a minority party as one which holds less than half the seats in an assembly, in which case the Conservatives are also a minority party up there.

But who’s the Majority?

In my view, the absolute acid test of whether a party is a genuine majority party, relates to the proportion of the electoral support they enjoy – in other words, have they got more than half the voters on their side?

The reality is, of course, that with so many parties participating nowadays, it is becoming ever less likely that there will be true majority parties in future. So in effect it simply means that our democracy is dominated by the largest of the minority parties.

This may come across just as a mildly interesting, philosophical observation in passing, but actually there is an important practical point here.

In our wholly un-proportional, winner-takes-all system of local and national governance, should there not be an expectation that the dominant party recognises that it is in power, based upon a minority of public support and that they have a definite duty to take on board the views of other minority parties to bring fair representation for the people at large? Otherwise, we face effective despotism.

I am surely not the only one who suspects that the latter is prevailing and certainly that has been my own personal experience as an elected member of an assembly completely dominated by a party, which attracted a mere 38% of the vote.

Sound ideas not welcome here

A prime example of this would be our UKIP attempt last week to address the plight of those many West Sussex residents, whose road maintenance has been abandoned by local government. Around 15,000 properties across the county face on to un-adopted roads and whilst the historical reasons or blame for this cannot be placed upon the county council, there ought to be a constructive attitude towards helping the more needy of these people in some way.

I argued that we should lobby for a legal provision to give some council tax rebate towards their costly maintenance burden. After all, if someone is not getting the full meal, why should they pay the full menu price?

My word! Every conceivable objection was thrown at me from the ruling clique; too difficult, too time-consuming, would open up the flood-gates, the very concept of rebates is too radical. I found all this rather rich, in that we live in a modern political climate, which is dripping with reliefs, rebates, allowances, subsidies and credits, some of which we merrily channel across the Channel and further afield.

A not dissimilar mood pervaded during the following debate, tabled by a Labour county councillor from Crawley, which asked the administration in its impending budget calculations to earmark some extra money to support our growing number of food banks. That particular motion - which UKIP robustly supported - begged for no more money than the county council would currently spend on just the recruitment costs of five of our senior staff! Anyway, the big guns again directed their fire against the idea and that was the end of it.

So, who in power really listens to minority parties? Well, someone needs to tell me, because I have no personal recollection of seeing it in action. The alarming irony is that the minority parties at County Hall are supported by 62% of the electorate.