Abandon Principles, All Ye Who Enter Walcot Politically?

What is it about Walcot which makes a small, 2 seat ward in Swindon, politically interesting yet encourages all those who enter it with political intent abandon their principles repeatedly?

Both incumbent Tory Councillors,  (Mavis Childs and Peter Mallinson), are  ‘floor crossers’, having deserted the local Labour party at a time when the political going got a little tougher for them and Swindons Tories were, conveniently enough, were on the political ascendant.

Since they crossed the floor to the Tory group, Cllr Childs and Mallinson have been fighting a weird and acrimonious ‘turf war’ against eachother which has escalated, (as their re-election campaigns get closer), to include regeneration money and whole building.

We have known for a while that significant sums of money,  (supposedly destined for the communities of  Walcot & Parks), are sloshing around in the Councils bank ccount and both Councillors are desperately vying for control of where it is spent.  Mallinson is up for re-election next May and Childs the year after so both of them want it, but Mallinson needs it first.

What we have in Walcot is a ‘political cocktail’.  The question we should consider is whether the Walcot Cocktail is sweet and enjoyable or a bitter and inflammable brew which will, at some point,  ignite and burn everyone within range?  Should we shake it, stir it, or just get well away from it?

Councillor Childs recently dismayed friends and political colleagues after she led them to believe she would be voting against the Swindon Conservatives ‘Austerity’ budget which would, if approved by full council, see Councillor Mallinson’s plans to cut £6 million from Swindons Adult Services put into action:  cuts which would affect elderly, disabled, sick and similarly vulnerable residents of Walcot as  hard, or even harder than many other Swindon communities.

Cllr Childs has been repeatedly asked to publicly explain why she voted for a budget which was described by Martin Wicks, (Secretary of Swindon Trades Union Council), as a ‘Butchers Budget’, but has thusfar chosen not to say a single word publicly.  Instead, she has been furiously using her private off-line network in a damage limitation exercise.

Councillor Mallinson, on the other hand, is busily capitalising on Cllr Child’s political discomfort and using the temporary lull in hostilities between himself and Mavis to consolidate his ‘power base’ within the Walcot ward.  To all intents and purposes the streets, neighbourhoods and residents of Walcot are being used in a politically hybridised game of poker-monoply.  If there are aby genuine losers in this game, it will be the genuine residents of Walcot and not the pair of  political Cuckoo’s  that fly in from West Swindon and Wroughton to fight their battles in someone elses community.  Walcot is what Belgium became to Napoleon and Wellington.  (reference to a vertically challenged bully and an old boot may be intentional).

Why Poker-Monopoly and what is at stake?

Originally, Councillor Childs regularly frequented the Walcot Community community shop where,  much to Councillor Mallinson annoyance,  she ‘held court’.   Eventually, as the political dice were thrown and re-thrown, and people were pushed and shoved around Cllr Mallinson’s & Child’s playing board,  Mallinson won possession of the Community shop from Childs, forcing her to retreat to the Walcot Dome.   Like warring wizards in a Terry Pratchett novel, each councillor now had a ‘tower’ of their own in which they could feel safer, but also keep a jealous eye on each other.  In what he probably thought of,  (at the time), as a stroke of political genius,  Cllr Mallinson moved the Community Shop into the Walcot Library and, ever since,  has been regularly observed strutting about on the poop deck of his ‘Tory Flagship’ volunteer-run local library.

From the poop deck, Cllr Mallinson would regularly lift his telescope to a beady eye and gaze smugly at the Walcot Dome which was floundering badly beneath Mavis and her crew.  Being nothing if not politically astute, Cllr Mallinson lost little time in jamming open the sea-cocks of Mavis’s vessel before watching it sink with all hands aboard.   Some wondered why Cllr Mallinson would not help Cllr Childs but others could already see that he had made salvage plans for the dome in which Mavis did not figure in anything more than a subservient role to himself.  Mallinson wanted control of the Dome, the library and the community shop.  A political hat-trick for him, a  political shit-trick to others.

Thereafter, the waters were much calmer for  Cllr Mallinson until he was ordered to make £6 million of cuts within the Adult Services portfolio which he manages on behalf of Rod Bluh.  Unfortunately, just as Mallinson began grinding his budget axe in preparation for some energetic wielding, the fact that his flagship library project was also sinking,  inconveniently bobbed to the surface.   Cllr Mallinson, with the start of his 2011 re-election campaign already blinking away on his political radar, and the reality of his wafer-thin majority of 43 hanging by a slightly rotten thread weighing heavily on his mind,  found himself looking desperately around for a political life-raft upon which he could paddle his political survival, integrity, credibility and personal reputation,  (as tatty as they all are),  towards safer political shores.

Now, when readers think of a life raft I’m sure they will imagine an inflatable rubber craft but politicians think of liferafts in terms of leaflets, legacies and money, and what they do for their share of the vote.  In some respects Councillors are very much like squirrels: They jealously hide away a few votes here and a few quid there.  Useful projects are delayed until they become ‘politically useful’, (usually when they are up for re-election).   In case I am not being clear enough, many councillors know that votes can be bought if they can sucessfully promote the ‘delivery’ of something useful or popular in their wards, and make it happen just at the right time, e.g, just before an election.  The ‘delivery’ is then shamelessly publicised as something that has only happened because of their personal involvement and, by the way, “please vote for me”.

It is therefore ironic that Councillors Mallinson and Childs have found themselves doggy-paddling towards the only liferaft within reach at exactly the same time. Both of them had desperately hoped the other might have overlooked this particular raft, which of course, being stuffed with money and potential political salvation, neither had.  Estimates vary as to the financial bouyancy of this liferaft,  but I will restrict myself to quoting the facts and figures as leaked to me by one of the ward councillors.

The liferaft:

The liferaft Cllr’s Childs and Mallinson want for themselves is formed from the £50,000 residual funds of the now defunct Parks and East Walcot Neighbourhood Renewal Company,  £20,000 designated for a car park refurbishment, £20,000 designated for estate playpark renewal, £50,000 announced by the then MP for Swindon South, Anne Snelgrove and, (this is a something of a corker!), £250,000 previously paid to Swindon Borough Council by Bath University when it demolished it’s learning campus on Marlowe Avenue, Parks.

Using figures supplied to me by Councillor Mallinson himself, the liferaft appears to be buoyant to the value of about £390,000 which makes it easy to see why Mavis Childs regularly abandons her promised ‘principled stands’, (most latterly against Bluh’s re-cast budget and Mallinsons budget cuts), because to be in with even a slim a chance of floating to safety, she has convinced herself that she needs to remain seated, playing political poker with Cllr Mallinson at the Tories monopoly table.   Mavis realises that the cards are marked and the dice loaded, but, having been told that she must play the game by their rules or face de-selection before her term in office ends in 2011, Mavis has weighed her options and decided that her best, if not only, chance of political survival is to do exactly as she is told.

Next week, (on the 2nd of November I believe), Councillors Childs and Mallinson will be present at a meeting where the future of the Parks and Walcot regeneration money, (part of their political  life raft), will be decided.  Readers should not be surprised if an announcement is made which quickly leads to Councillor Mallinson taking a more prominent role in the future management and redevelopment of the Walcot Dome and Councillor Childs moving back from whence she came, to the Walcot community shop/library.  If this does happen I think it signifies the ‘changing of ends’ on a very un-level political playing field.

Sadly, while this political gun-slinging is going on, both councillors appear content in playing Russian-Roullette with the lives and welfare of the very residents that both claim to be ‘defending and fighting for’.  I believe the exact opposite to be true: Both councillors are fighting only for themselves, as demonstrated by Cllr Childs voting FOR Cllr Mallinsons £6 million worth of  ‘Butchers Budget’ cuts, instead of recording a principled vote AGAINST them , as she’d quietly promised people she would.

Ultimately then, should Walcot have a sign on it’s boundary which says:  ‘Abandon Political Principles, All Ye Who Enter Here’ ?

A discussion topic exists on the Talkswindon Forum here.

Posted on
Monday, October 25th, 2010
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