Why is the SeeRed website needed? People are fed up with government at all levels. Most no longer believe they can influence anything. Council tax continues to rise remorselessly yet apathy has taken over, even amongst the young who should be most concerned for the future.
In this climate, incompetence, mismanagement and abuse of power can flourish unchallenged. This is further discussed at government.htm and in this section in particular. Hundreds of glossy leaflets and consultation reports are produced by myriad departments and local Councils. They variously promise accountability, best value, enhanced complaints procedures and listening to voters, and for the most part they are whitewash. The real agenda is to centralise power in the hands of a few senior councillors and bureaucrats, to remove accountability and to cloak government in an impenetrable shell of pretence and doublespeak. The final objective of ensuring that no taxpayer will ever be able to get a straight answer to a straight question, will then have been achieved. This process needs to be reversed. A substantial degree of openness and genuine debate needs to be introduced into local government.
History (and a few words about the author too)
In the spring of 1997 I moved home to the outskirts of Sidmouth. I had been a government physicist, building scientist, author, lecturer, landlord, consultant, and occasional environmental campaigner. Fresh from running the Northern Rock Action Group (which I set up to protest about manipulation of interest rates on savings accounts during demutualisation) I decided on some peace and quiet. I had no interest in local politics and knew even less about html and the Internet than I knew about gardening. I chose Sidmouth for the reasons many people do - it is a bit of old England amidst delightful countryside and with a seafront that has not been ruined by amusement arcades. Sidmouth was also host to an annual folk festival that used to attract up to 80,000 people. It is now a much smaller affair.
However, having seen tourists and residents alike suffer from a plague of 'nuisance behaviour' along the once peaceful Esplanade, I wrote to the local newspaper outlining why the police should do their job properly and not look the other way. This was five years before the current emphasis on policing of anti-social behaviour. Later, I wrote an article on policing that covered two full pages of the local paper. This prompted an angry response from a Superintendent who was unwise enough to question my motives and ability. I made a formal complaint against her and won - which set a precedent in a sleepy little town. Even the then Chief Constable, Sir John Evans QPM, became involved.
Some time later, I organised a campaign against a proposed multi-storey car park adjacent to the seafront. It lasted nearly two years. There are many intelligent and erudite people in Sidmouth, but most have the good sense not to get involved in politics. No-one told me what I was letting myself in for when in the spring of 1998 I was elected to Sidmouth Town Council. This gave me an opportunity to ruffle a few feathers - in the manner of a fox in a hen house. After all, if you get involved, you might as well try to relieve orchestrated tedium with a little logical analysis.
Following some well publicised arguments on the planning committee, some of the old guard of town and district councils decided to test my resolve by threatening prosecution if I did not cut my grass, tidy the garden and generally make it look as prissy as their 'Britain in Bloom' gardens. It was all part of the tedious games that are played out across the UK as petty politicians and officials use public money to further their own agendas, including finding reasons why their jobs are still necessary.
And so began one of the most publicised 'battles' in the history of Sidmouth. It ended in victory for me, which further upset some of the town worthies, several of whom had written to the local paper suggesting that I leave town. By now I had become notorious as well as infamous.
Next came the saga of the Sidford traffic lights. I became embroiled helping local residents and shopkeepers fight Devon County Council (DCC) and one 'raving lunatic' councillor in particular, who decided (allegedly against the advice of technical experts) to install traffic signals in the centre of the village. It was a classic piece of local government bungling aided and abetted by incompetence in data analysis. DCC took no notice of a huge groundswell of informed local opinion that warned of consequences for the village including closure of shops. In the interim, I had pulled to pieces several locally produced official reports including a joint EDDC/police/DCC exercise on crime statistics and a particularly amateurish EDDC survey of peoples attitudes to the local AONB. This added to my popularity amongst councillors and local government officials, probably in equal measure.
The scene was set for another confrontation - in which DCC again failed properly to answer complaints and queries. This time the topics were library computers and data protection. DCC were unusually arrogant and rude in casually dismissing valid questions raised in the public interest, a position they may have taken after prompting by councillors concerned that once again I might be about to expose incompetence. What exactly happened, including who took orders from whom, is unlikely ever to be known.
The website was originally conceived to cover only the principles of wild gardening and sustainability that were central to my 1998/2001 campaign against the excesses of Britain in Bloom. However, it remained only a vague idea until on 15 October 2002, I was banned from all 67 Devon libraries essentially for having had the effrontery to question officialdom in public and in a manner that could not easily be ignored. As a direct response, the SeeRed website was first published in February 2003. I need to thank the despotic buffoons of Devon County Council and in particular Lynn Osborne (head of Devon Library Services until she resigned in 2008) for opening so many pathways in my life that would otherwise have remained unexplored.
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