I’ve been entertained – and at times irritated – by the comedian Russell Brand’s campaign for direct democracy through his “Revolution” YouTube channel. Entertained because he’s incredibly funny but irritated because the issues are more complex than presented. A “Big Brother” or “X Factor” style popular vote on the NHS would clearly have everyone demanding more nurses and better equipped hospitals, & let’s not even get started on the food, but who would take the decision on whether to take the money from schools, the army, train service or wind farms?
On a local level, however, a bit more democracy could go a long way. The council right now is changing the face of Whitstable, for example, beyond recognition. The town loved for its unkempt seafront and quirky shops is suddenly being stormed by an influx of big chains: the latest newcomer to the High Street being Morrisons, bang opposite Budgens. At Estuary View, we’re getting a Lidl store and another big retail chain. Gone but not forgotten, The Bear & Key, now a Prezzo, The Tankerton Arms, now flats.
But it’s not just the shops. Along the seafront in Tankerton, houses are being rapidly replaced with identikit blocks of flats. The turreted Valentie’s house, now flats. The once rural idyll boating lake off the golf course by West Beach now an estate of terraces.
The beautifully quaint Peggotty House on Marine Parade is the latest insult to residents. The much-admired home was declared as without architectural merit by the council. Granted it doesn’t follow any traditional style of architecture – but that’s the point. Whitstabilians have always done things differently.
It’s not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine a system where people can lodge their vote on decisions of whether a chain store should be allowed in our high street and whether treasured local assets like Peggotty House should be cast in the dustbin of development. But really, politicians with their ears to the ground should already be hearing loud and clear what their electorate are saying.