ON JANUARY 7 I saw a land-mark event at the Dorchester Corn Exchange hall.

To kick off this election year, 270 people braved the inclement weather to discuss how the democratic process could be improved in Dorset.

This meeting arose out of frustration with the impen-etrable and anti-democratic nature of the West Dorset District Council cabinet form of government – where the majority Conservative party holds 67 per cent of the seats, based on just 43 per cent of the vote, but then through cabinet appointments translates this into 100 per cent of the cabinet positions, essentially excluding all other political points of view.

Chaired by local human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith OBE, the meeting discussed how, under a unitary system, around 242 councillors countywide might be cut back to 100, with massive financial savings.

Equally, a committee structure of local government, as operates in Weymouth, would ensure that the voice of all parties would be heard in council.

Towards the end, brief contributions from representatives invited from the Green Party, Labour, Lib-Dems and UKIP were welcomed, and all agreed with the clear sense of the public’s view at the meeting that WDDC should move to a committee, and potentially unitary, system of local government. In perhaps the starkest illustration of the need for greater democratic respon-siveness, not one of the eight senior Tories individually invited to attend appeared.

Votes were taken on key issues debated and there was over a 90 per cent agreeement level for action on all the proposals that were put to the 270 attendees.

Participants were invited to provide their email or phone contact detailss, to be updated on subsequent options. The ‘Public First’ co-ordinating committee then decided on three actions:

To take steps to seek a local referendum that would require WDDC to substitute a more representative system for the current Cabinet process.

To initiate a public debate on the benefits of changing to a Unitary form of local government.

To encourage more such ‘pop-up forums’ through West Dorset in the coming weeks.

John Grantham

Public First

Middle Street

Burton Bradstock