Call for new blood on town council

[The Luton Reporter: Tuesday, August 26th, 1919]

It was inevitably the case in pre-war times that interest in local municipal affairs centre upon the November elections immediately after the August holidays, but never before in Luton history probably has that interest been of such a pronounced and widespread character as this year.

Five years have gone by without a municipal election to give the ratepayers a say in the constitution of the Town Council and the atmosphere of staleness necessarily created, combined with recent happenings, has had a wonderfully stimulating effect in arousing the man in the street from the lethargy with which far too many have been wont to regard local elections in the past.

The call for “new blood” is making itself manifest on pretty well every hand – so much so that there is generally a marked feeling of dissatisfaction and resentment that the ratepayers are not to be afforded the opportunity this November of electing an entire Council which could, in the truest sense of the word, be claimed to be really representative of present day desires.

The legal position is that, in the absence of any alteration in the law to meet the abnormal circumstances, the Municipal Corporation Act provides for one third of the councillors to retire annually – and in the case of Luton, two from each of three wards. Parliament rose on Tuesday for a six weeks recess without touching this problem, and as an alteration requires statutory enactment it may be taken for granted that no departure from the ordinary procedure is intended.

Taking up this aspect of the matter, “Ratepayer” writes [in a reader's letter to the Reporter]: “Some of us claim that the whole of the town councillors have lost the confidence of the ratepayers and it is therefore their bounden duty to retire and once more ask for the suffrages of the people. If two-third will persist in representing no body but themselves, we as ratepayers must call a meeting, carrying a resolution demanding the resignation of the town councillors, forward it to the Town Clerk and a copy to the Local Government Board so as to force their hands and enable the ratepayers to be properly represented.”

While we cannot subscribe to the sweeping assertion that the whole of the town councillors have lost the confidence of the ratepayers, we cannot but sympathise with the general tenour of 'Ratepayer's' letters.

It may be true that at least half of the Council were not consulted upon the ill-advised refusal of Wardown for the discharged men's drumhead memorial service, and, no doubt, when Council meetings are resumed some of them will seek an early opportunity of placing their position before the public, but still the whole of them are more or less open to the criticism which has fallen upon the Council concerning the conduct of the peace celebrations generally.

We need not catalogue the various grievances – they would make something like a catalogue if the whole ground were covered. Sufficient to say that from the standpoint of the general public the serious complaint is that the whole thing was kept in the hands of a small committee of the Council instead of inviting the views of a public meeting of ratepayers of the co-operation of representative bodies entitled to a prominent in anything associated with peace celebrations, with the result that there was conceived the disastrous policy of limiting the programme of celebrations to the produce of a halfpenny rate.

It is due to one or two members of the Council to say that they consistently opposed the proposal put forward by the majority on the ground of the need for national and local economy, but here was not a word of opposition to the sole control of affairs inside the Council and this really the grievance from which all others have sprung.

If the Council had been one newly elected and in living touch with the ratepayers it might have been different but, as one councillor had the courage to say publicly months ago, all the members have long ceased to be real representative of the ratepayers and have become Government nominees.

Whether any practical good can come of holding a public meeting and passing a resolution such as 'Ratepayer' suggests is very much open to question. The ratepayers may well be afforded an opportunity of ventilating their views, but this would seem to be available when the election comes along. They can then give practical effect to whatever opinions they hold, and the next step it seems to us, is for a representative gathering of ratepayers to band themselves together, irrespective of political or other cliques, and seize upon this very opportune time to form a live Ratepayers' Association in Luton.