Thursday, 25 April 2019

Bexhill on Sea: The Search for Greater Democracy

Every now and then I feel inspired to write a few paragraphs about my hometown of Bexhill on Sea, an Edwardian coastal resort, which is loved by the vast majority of its residents. My inspiration in this post is how, despite its rather sedate facade, our delightful town has been rocked to its core by local politics. Bexhill is part of Rother District Council, and local elections are next week. Please note that any views expressed in this post are my own, and not linked to any political party or candidate.

Rother District Council was formed in 1974 under the Local Government Act. It has 38 councillors of whom 18 represent wards in Bexhill. The electoral organisation is odd in so far as the other two towns in the electoral district, Rye and Battle, have their own Town Councils, but the largest town, Bexhill, does not. The imposing Town Hall in Bexhill houses a majority of councillors who represent areas outside of the town.

Bexhill has a well established and enviable community identity which is valued by its residents. There are numerous examples of volunteers from all political persuasions working together to benefit the people and heritage of our lovely town. Rother District Council is not responsible for the historic electoral arrangements, but, bearing in mind the uniqueness of the town, it is unsurprising that many voters are now uncomfortable at being governed by a majority of councillors who represent wards outside of Bexhill, some of whom appear to have rather less local knowledge than the residents. 

Despite this, the creation of a Bexhill Town Council has been vigorously opposed by most members of the current Council. They have chosen to ignore the views of those residents in Bexhill who feel that the creation of a Town Council followed by a Bexhill Neighbourhood Plan would be a massive step towards giving the residents of Bexhill greater local representation. In a recent consultation over 90% of respondents, who participated, said they wanted a Town Council, so it is hardly surprising that giving Bexhill a greater say in its own governance has become a very high profile issue. There are of, course, various other local issues, but the creation of a Town Council is part of the manifesto put forward by many candidates, including a growing number of Independents. Feelings are running very high, and it is the talk of the town.

Once the local election is over, (less than a week to go now), we will still all have to live and work and volunteer together and contribute to our wonderful community. I believe that whatever the outcome of the election next week, most residents of Bexhill will continue to promote the town and help it to thrive. Despite a few very vocal people with varying connections to Bexhill (including, sadly, the occasional councillor or candidate) who have seemed unable to discuss local politics without resorting to unnecessary personal attacks, there are numerous examples of locals with opposing views collaborating and teasing out the issues which will benefit our lovely town, both on social media and in face to face discussions. But it could be so much better.

So if you get a chance to glance at the results of the local elections next week, take a look at Rother District Council. I am rather hoping that we will show how much we care about our town with a record breaking turnout.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

The Language of Facebook

Before I begin, I wish to state that I am writing this post, as someone who is very interested in the way we use language on social media. I am not a member of any political party, and have always voted locally for what I feel is best for my hometown regardless of the candidate's political allegiance.

The reason I have to state this is because we have a local election coming in up in my hometown of Bexhill. The list of candidates was announced today, and a variety of opinions have already appeared all over social media, some funny, some informative, some with covert messages, and some downright unpleasant. For anyone who is robust enough to engage about politics on social media, this will come as no surprise. The allegedly ‘sleepy’ town of Bexhill on Sea is not immune to online sniping, and feelings are running high.

Anyway, you will be relieved to know that I am not intending to weigh up the pros and cons of any political proposal in this blog post. The election is only relevant to what I am saying, insofar as I have been reflecting on the sometimes underhand methods which some people use on Facebook to promote their particular cause.

I’ve had a bit of fun and invented vocabulary for the subtle and not so subtle methods which I have observed. It isn’t really funny though. At best, the methods below are misleading, and at worst they downright malicious.

So here goes:

  1.  Facebardment    Definition ‘Continuing to post the same view again and again on a Facebook thread until dissenters eventually feel bombarded and either believe the assertion is true or just give up.’
  2.  Facescaring   Definition ‘Repeatly dropping exaggerated claims about the negative consequences of a proposal, until people begin to think they're true.’
  3.  Facelittling   Definition ‘Using judgemental words such as 'claptrap' or 'get a life' about someone else’s post so that they feel belittled and back off.' This is particularly effective if carried out by someone with a high profile role in the local community’. 
  4.  Faceduets   Definition ‘Staging a pre-arranged conversation when one person appears to ask a genuine question, and another steps in with a political response. One way of spotting this is to look for people who engage together a lot and are very quick to reply to each other.
  5. Facewhispering Definition ‘ Making an unsubstantiated or false claim about someone whose viewpoint differs from your own, for example suggesting that they have a fake Facebook ID or are part of an extreme political group.’ Although the claim may then be contradicted, it is often too late, and the whispers continue. 
  6.   Facetwisting   Definition   'Repeating someone's post back to them, but with a slightly altered meaning.' An example of this might be if someone expressed a worry about a particular housing development, and the reply implied that the poster was against all new housing.
  7. Facebanter    Definition   'Engaging with someone whom you have never or rarely met with a familiarity which would normally be reserved for your closest family or friends, then accusing the person of having no sense of humour when they express their offence.
  8. Facesmiles     Definition  'Posting an unwanted insult or negative personal comment followed by LOL or a succession of smiley faces. The poster can then claim that it was just a joke.      
   So what am I hoping to gain from this blog post? Probably not a lot, but if one person more feels strong enough to confront the perpetrators, then I will have achieved something.

Can you think of any more examples?