Opinion: ‘To get change we must co-operate’

Nick Sandford, Lib Dem Group leader on Peterborough City Council, writes...

Sunday, 1st August 2021, 6:10 pm
The pop-up cycle lane has been removed from Crescent Bridge

In the city council election campaign earlier this year, Peterborough’s Tory MP on a number of occasions warned about the dangers of a “coalition of chaos” taking control of Peterborough City Council.

I thought at the time he might have been talking about the way a few independent councillors have been keeping the

Tories in control of the council for a number of years, despite their record of taking the city council close to financial insolvency.

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For the past two years on the city council, the principal opposition groups (Labour, Lib Dems and Greens) have been working together informally to find common ground and put forward alternative viewpoints in a coherent way. A lot of people tell me that is what they expect from their elected representatives...working together to find common ground on key issues.

Sometimes we are able to work with the Conservatives on the city council...but more often than not we find they are intent on imposing their will on the city, exploiting a political system that gives them almost absolute power, even though they gain only a minority of votes across the city and a minority of seats on the city council.

It’s always useful to look at a practical example. So let’s look at the ill-fated Crescent Bridge cycle way. The government, through the combined authority, gave the council several hundred thousand pounds to create new cycle-ways to help local people get to work in a greener and healthier way. Peterborough took the money, put in some new cycle lanes and then, as soon as the money ran out, closed them all again. The one on Crescent Bridge was the most well used (with daily usage of up to 190 people in some months), as it’s a key route for commuters, but really dangerous for cyclists without a segregated cycle route. A cross-party working group said it should be retained but our Tory cabinet disagreed and now it has been ripped out.

So a big pot of public money has resulted in precisely no long term improvements to cycleways in Peterborough.

Such arrogant and illogical decision making means it is vital for there to be effective and coherent opposition on the city council. Just to be clear there are no plans for electoral pacts in elections and no guarantee of any coalitions after next year’s elections.

But in the financial crisis faced by our council and in the face of wider issues such as the continuing Covid, climate and biodiversity emergencies, councillors of all parties should be committed to finding consensus and common ground.

And at the national level too, similar considerations apply. During the 20th century and into the current one, there has usually been majority support for progressive, radical and reformist politics; but it is a fact that the Conservatives have been in government for more than three-quarters of that time.

If that is ever going to change, there needs to be co-operation between Labour, Liberal Democrats and Greens on the really big issues such as tackling climate change, but also to fundamentally change the way we are governed: number one priority being to change the distorting and antiquated first past the post voting system that has kept the Tories in power for far too long.

The massive Lib Dem win in the recent Chesham and Amersham by-election shows that voters are clearly capable of identifying which party is best placed to beat the Tories and help deliver real change for their local communities. There is no reason why that can’t happen right here in Peterborough in years to come.