Saturday, 23 October 2010

Full council meeting, Maiden Erlegh motion and the bunfight that followed

At the meeting of the full council earlier in the week we were hoping to get Reading Borough Council to seek specialist legal advice regarding Wokingham's plan to change the Maiden Erlegh catchment area to exclude some Park Ward children from the school.

Labour had a motion down to make this happen. We were hoping that Councillor Hussain -- Conservative -- was going to second the motion and it would get all-party support. Councillor Hartley who had written the motion -- unfortunately with no political party consultation up front -- had made it clear that he would welcome discussion on friendly amendments. But right up until the meeting it was not clear exactly what position the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats were going to take on this issue. Although both parties had said they supported the Reading parents, in terms of the council motion it was not clear what wording and specific action they wanted. At the start of the meeting it became obvious that cross-party support was not going to happen and so I found myself seconding the Labour motion.

So immediately after my speech seconding the motion the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats moved an amendment -- in practice deleting everything apart from the first few words and replacing it with a new motion.

From here on in it had turned into a bit of a bunfight and no one succeeded in covering themselves in glory! Others have written about this in more detail.

I did not feel that the amendment moved the campaign forwards as all it set out to do in my opinion was formalise what the council was already doing -- but it did not move us backwards either. Inevitably though the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats with a clear majority passed their amendment and then passed the amended motion.

Looking back, I struggle to see how cross party support could have been built. Although I had been talking to both Tories and Liberal Democrats -- as well as Labour and parents -- I do not think either group had agreed a position on this until immediately before the full council meeting, so a back and forth of discussion on the wording of a motion would have been pretty difficult to achieve.

What does this mean for the campaign? Well I am an optimist by nature, so despite this setback I think the campaign has come a long way. And I think that parents have shown politicians in Reading and Wokingham that there are a lot of people interested in this issue and in getting a fair deal for Reading families. The option of getting specialist legal advice is still on the table and the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats said that if there is a need after negotiation with Wokingham then they will do this. So I guess we will have to wait and see what Wokingham does following on from negotiations with Reading and the informal consultation responses and what it puts into the formal consultation in November. My concern though is will this be too late?

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