The borough council elections have proven to be the referendum the Conservatives never wanted. The results are conclusive, more conclusive than the EU referendum. 57% of voters backed parties that were opposed to the new civic complex and theatre. 43% of voters backed the Conservatives who put forward the plan. The silent majority has spoken. This council does not have a mandate for the civic complex. Voters have sent them an instruction to stop the project and think again.
In my ‘day job’ as a chartered psychologist, I specialise in helping business leaders to develop and maintain environments in which everyone can flourish. My colleagues and I work with leaders and leadership teams all over the world. In truth, I don’t see much modern-day leadership in the Conservative ranks of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. The old days of ‘heroic leadership’, leading from the front and occasionally looking back to see if others are following, are gone.
Effective leadership is about being open to others, being collaborative, exploring alternatives, encouraging the views of others rather than shaping the debate by stating yours first. It really is time that the Tory leadership started working with others, looking at realistic, genuinely affordable alternatives to the current grandiose and inappropriate proposals. They have had their fingers in their ears for too long, trying not to hear the objections – maybe the election results will be a wake-up call. Let’s hope so.
So, what should be our council’s priorities? To me, a priority is something that is both important and urgent. A new theatre is not the number one priority, nor is moving out of the Town and Assembly Halls. The priorities are the development of genuinely affordable housing and easily accessible, affordable office space, so that young families can live, work and contribute to their local communities by staying in the borough.
During our local election campaign, we met people whose grown-up children have moved away because they cannot afford to live here. We met grandparents who feel unsupported and isolated because their family is no longer nearby. We met families in the private rented sector with three children to a bedroom. We saw empty shops, derelict land, congested roads and met business owners who are looking to leave Tunbridge Wells because office space is so hard to find and exorbitantly expensive.
The election results have confirmed our view that this council has got it spectacularly wrong. Rather than proposing something that few people want and that carries huge financial risks, it needs to look again at what is important and urgent. It is because of this that our Labour councillors will continue to oppose the plan and work for the real and pressing day to day priorities of the people they represent.
This council lacks effective, modern leadership, leadership that acknowledges and takes account of the views and opinions of others rather than blindly moving forward, deaf to entreaties and blind to objections. We all deserve better than this – change still needs to happen.
Tunbridge Wells Constituency Labour Party