Parish debate is all about party politics

First published in Leader

IT seems no political debate can take place in Durham City without it descending into bitter party knockabout.

To the neutral, the way consideration of what size and shape Durham’s new town council should take has become political Punch and Judy is rather depressing. But perhaps we should not be surprised. The depth of the enmity between Labour and the Liberal Democrats has grown since the Lib Dems seized control of the city council. It is the city council and its soon-to-be-passed-on powers that lie at the heart of the debate in the last couple of weeks.

When the city authority ceases to be in April next year, the city’s Liberal Democrats will lose their power base. Although they dominate the city wards on the new unitary council, their capacity to get anything done on the Labourcontrolled countywide authority will be severely curtailed.

A town council covering the city and the unparished area of Newton Hall presents them with an opportunity to have representation on a lesser body but still a council with the capacity to raise a reasonable precept and do something with it.

For Labour, the game is all about making sure a new authority, or authorities, for Durham City does not have any significant powers. The last thing Labour wants is a strong voice for the city because it knows that voice would be a Liberal Democrat one. Having successfully got rid of what it regarded as the anomaly of a Lib Dem-controlled authority in its County Durham fiefdom through the creation of a unitary council, the last thing it would want to Durham City Council 2, albeit a much diminished one.

Hence its opposition to a large town council incorporating Newton Hall and its suggestion that a number of small parish councils would be better.

Both parties proclaim to have taken the pulse of the people on this issue but, in truth, we suspect people are punchdrunk with confusion over the matter. The dust has only just settled over the unitary council debate and that was characterised by a general feeling that a step into the unknown was being taken.

This is another step shrouded in ifs and maybes, not least to what extent the Labour unitary council will allow a viable town council to be established.

We believe Durham City, regardless of who controls it, deserves as strong a council as can be sustained and supported by its citizens.

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