The call for a referendum in today's Evening News is absolutely spot on – for a process designed to make Norwich more democratic, the Unitary process has been deceivingly undemocratic in its nature and has sought to exclude the views of local people whenever and whenever it could.
When the process first started, we were pleased to note the proposals would need grassroots support but disappointed when this was watered down to just “stakeholders” (i.e. not individual residents – just groups). This was then further diluted when it was went from requiring “support” to “a broad cross section of support” and then down to “a measure of support”.
Charles Clarke declares in the House of Commons that the democracy will come at the General Election and asserts that he believes more people will vote for pro-unitary candidates than anti-unitary candidates. I do not believe this to be an accurate measure of support. Our votes at a general election are decided by a number of issues - the NHS, defence and crime, for example – and not just unitary. I know Labour voters who are set against unitary who would be shocked that their votes were being used to justify this scheme.
There is, of course, only one fair way to record local support or opposition to unitary. Conservatives have always believed that the final judge on these plans ought not to be Councillors or even stakeholders, but the ratepayers who pay the taxes that keep our councils going. When the Conservatives on the City Council put forward plans for a referendum, Labour and their allies voted us down.
It seems that for some people, democracy is only a useful tool when they think they will win and for the rest of the time it is an inconvenience.