Tom Richmond: Well done for protesting – now why not try voting?

Tree campaigners will once again take to the streets of Sheffield today.
Tree campaigners will once again take to the streets of Sheffield today.
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THERE is one potential positive to emerge from the Sheffield tree-felling scandal – it’s been handled so ineptly by council chiefs, and South Yorkshire Police who’ve taken to arresting pensioner protesters, that it’s galvanised local residents and activists.

They will be taking to the streets 
of the South Yorkshire city today in a show of strength to express their 
disgust at this act of environmental vandalism.

I don’t blame them. Sheffield Council chief executive John Mothersole and leader Julie Dore have misjudged this issue so badly that they’re beginning to make their Leeds counterparts Tom Riordan and Judith Blake appear half-competent in comparison when it comes to transport policy. It’s that bad.

Yet past experience, not least of 
North Yorkshire’s anti-frackers, tells me many of these protesters will probably not bother to vote in next month’s local elections. Those quick to express an opinion – and condemn their leaders – are invariably those who are least likely to exercise their democratic right at the ballot box.

Perhaps they should give it a go. For, even in those wards – or councils – where there’s little prospect of electoral change, civic engagement is still crucial to holding councillors to account and this activism is the only reason that there’s now a ‘pause’ in tree-feeling in Sheffield.

And, with this year’s election campaign now under way, it’s the one time of year when local residents, and not the ruling councillors, are in charge.

It’s a power that should be used. Ask candidates for their CVs. Ask them to name their priorities. Ask them about their stance on the big local issues.

Make them think – and work for 
your vote. For, if they do, there might – at the end of the day – be some more informed decision-making and it will be harder for councils like Sheffield to ride roughshod over the wishes of local communities in the future.

ON two occasions last week, the 
Tories did not take part in Commons votes on local government funding – and then the resources made available to the police.

Fearing defeat, Tory chief whip Julian Smith ordered MPs to abstain and they followed his orders to a person.

Yet, given Opposition Day motions are a chance for opponents of the Government to raise topical issues, Smith threatens to bring Parliament into contempt.

It’s not the first time that Theresa May’s government has done so. Nor will it be the last. Yet, if this was Labour, the Tories would be crying foul.

They can’t have it both ways and, more to the point, these debates are a chance for Ministers to listen and refine their arguments. They should try it.

SO some supporters of Jeremy Corbyn believe the anti-Semitism row is being stirred up by right-wing politicians and newspapers to undermine the Labour leader.

If only. A far more robust – and centrist – Opposition leader would pose a far greater threat, and challenge, to Theresa May’s Tories than Mr Corbyn.

VERY mixed messages from the Tories who are in danger of replicating Lib Dem election tactics. Nationally, Theresa May’s party favours more housebuilding. Locally, I’ve now had two leaflets from Conservative candidates opposing new plans in outer Leeds which they say will ruin the green belt. I’m not sure who to believe.

TALKING of the Lib Dems, party leader Sir Vince Cable – born in York – suggests voters use the council elections to register their protest against Brexit. How times change. When his party was in power, he was urging the electorate to put local matters first at the ballot box.

I’M sure much of the surface water flooding in Leeds and Yorkshire this week could have been avoided if councils cleared the gullies and drains more regularly. Equally concerning is the deteriorating state of already unsafe potholes – are they getting bigger, and deeper, because of the rain? If so, they need repairing now.

THIS is what independent High Street shops are up against. Even though most stores were shut on Easter Day, as is custom, it did not stop Amazon’s profits as its couriers made deliveries on my street – and elsewhere. Can, and should, this be stopped?

ON the new fines for dropping litter, 
 the authorities should scrutinise any barcode on the detritus and try to trace the purchaser who, in all likelihood, 
will have paid for the item of food or drink with a debit card.

The opprobrium caused by naming and shaming a handful of offenders should, I hope, have the desired effect. Give it a go.

THREE-TIME champion jump 
jockey Richard Dunwoody took risks in his National Hunt career – and retirement (from injury) has not 
stopped him.

Tomorrow the global explorer undertakes one of his more mundane challenges – the North Korea Marathon – in aid of the Injured Jockeys Fund and Ebony Horse Club in Brixton. Talk about fearless.

AND so people become armchair experts in the triathlon after the Brownlee brothers – Alistair and Jonny – did not medal at the Commonwealth Games. Three points.

They’re human, they have bigger priorities than the short-course format and it’s taken the rest of the world a bloody long time to catch up with the Leeds lads.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk