There are events which bring opposing sides together and can, with a will, bring a lasting legacy. We saw that with the tributes in Parliament and across the nation following the brutal murder of Sir David Amess MP. On that Friday 15th October I was similarly holding my MP surgery appointment as doubtless hundreds of MPs across the country were as well. It is what we do. Whilst our staff can deal with many queries from constituents and signpost most towards help, in some cases nothing else but a face-to-face meeting with their MP will do. The most natural response following a request from a constituent is to say ‘yes’. We’re in a people facing role and it is constituents who put us in the role that we’re privileged to serve in. Having spoken to equivalent national Parliament representatives across many parts of the world, there is always some incredulity that MPs in the UK actually meet their constituents in this way and are out and about in public without a bullet-proof vest.
I always recall a chat over an agreeable lunch with an Athenian couple that we met whilst on a Greek island some years ago; they were similarly on holiday. After usual pleasantries, conversation moved onto what I did in the UK. The chap was somewhat taken aback that I was there simply as a holidaymaker with my wife and he wondered where my security detail was?
That’s not a way of life that I wish for but thought has to turn a little towards that. The murder of Jo Cox was an indicator of what we face in political life in the UK, but now an attrition rate of 2 MPs out of 650 in 5 years, and nearly 3 in 10 years if the vicious attempt on Stephen Timms MP is included makes the role of MP a higher risk enterprise. Might this put off colleagues form standing again? Will it deter people who’d make great future MPs from putting themselves forward as candidates? The answer is probably yes. The health of our country’s democracy was damaged at that church in Leigh-on-Sea; this was an attack on us all.
There is much talk as to what role social media plays in fuelling the background of raised levels of hate towards politicians and each other. Vitriolic keyboard warriors seemingly inhabit every corner of Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. I feel sure that when this period of human history is written social media will be deemed probably the worst invention of the age with wasted time, bullying, hate and viciousness top of the negative attributes. Trolling by foreign regimes stoking up lies and hate through anonymous accounts are further activities that are commonplace. The new Online Harms Bill will try to address some of these issues but will never be foolproof. If you want to disagree with me or colleagues – feel free to do so, but opposition is best expounded without expletives and threats. We can all do our bit to dial down towards a friendlier and cohesive community.
We look towards the Budget this week. The big local question is whether Ramsgate’s £20 million ‘Levelling up’ bid will be successful? Whilst this Covid period has focused on spending, I’m always keen on the tax measures, the other side of the ledger. It will come as no surprise from me to hear that I favour low taxes to encourage people and businesses to thrive and to make the UK a magnet for investment. In short, making a bigger pie and taking a lower tax percentage from it makes better sense than shrinking the pie and trying to take more from it. That policy starts a spiral towards failure.
The issue of Manston remains unresolved. I alluded to my criticism of Ramsgate Town Council in my previous pieces. I am fully aware that Manston, airport or not, is a binary issue that has mixed opinions across the community. I still find it incredible that the Town Council, knowing this to be a divisive issue, felt able (and I have doubts about the constitutional basis of the Council doing so) to give £10,000 of local Ramsgate ratepayers money to back a legal action for one side. That action was successful but even now, the Council has not asked for our money back and is willing to let it ride for possible future legals.
Ramsgate Town Council levies £80.64 for a Band D property, up from £38.43 in 2015/16; an eye-watering 110% increase over those six years and has more than doubled its budget across that time from £460k to £950k. I hardly need highlight that council tax and such precepts are enforceable in court. Ramsgate is now way out in front as the highest levy on households of all Thanet parishes and town councils. I’m all in favour of services being provided at the closest level to residents being served but Ramsgate Town Council now needs to rein in and do what people expect of it and keep away from divisive politics on the back of hard-working local taxpayers.
A response from Ramsgate Town Council
Ramsgate Town Council is pleased to report that Craig Mackinlay MP has agreed to meet with us, a request we made to help build bridges and promote better working together for the town.
Unfortunately, Craig has raised several concerns regarding the governance of Ramsgate Town Council recently, which we’re keen to correct. For example, although it is correct that the town council’s precept has increased since 2015/16, that is because the number of assets and services provided by the town council has increased significantly, a fact that was well known to the rate payers at the last election, and there will be no refund from the funds contributed to the Judicial Review regarding Manston.
We welcome the opportunity to allay Craig’s concerns and stress that if there’s ever anything that he wants to know about the activities of the Town Council, he’s welcome to ask. We also look forward to hearing what projects Craig is currently working on for the benefit of Ramsgate residents.