carrots and leeks
Photo by Peter Wendt on Unsplash

Opposition stinks.

It particularly stinks if you’re a councillor covering one of the most deprived communities in South East England. And it stinks to high heaven if, during the last dozen years of austerity, followed by Covid, followed by food and energy price inflation, you’ve seen your community move from poverty, to desperation, to signs of hopelessness. This is the situation in which I and my fellow Banbury Grimsbury & Hightown Councillor and co-operator Rebecca Biegel found ourselves by Spring. I appreciate these sentiments will be reflected by fellow Labour and Co-operative councillors all over the UK. The one, important silver lining for us was that following the May 2022 local elections, the Conservative majority on Cherwell District Council was slashed to just two. This meant that, not only are there more seats for Labour & Co-operative councillors on key committees, but the Conservatives diminished authority requires them to listen a little bit more than they may have done previously.

The first full council meeting after the AGM was held on Monday 18th July. This was the first opportunity since the energy price hikes to try to offer some relief to our communities. I’d read for some time about the Co-operative Party’s Food Justice campaign and so floated the idea of a motion to our Labour Group, more than half of whom are also co-operators. The idea was accepted and so I drafted the following motion:

“The long-term effects of the COVID pandemic, spiralling inflation and stagnant wages are leaving many adults and children across our communities hungry. Over 2m people in the UK are now reliant on food banks. Residents throughout Cherwell are facing the terrible choice of heating or eating. The situation this coming winter is set to get worse. Fuel bills and the cost of food are both likely to increase again in the autumn. The knock-on effects on declining mental health will increase the burden on the NHS. This Council acknowledges the suffering of residents struggling to feed themselves and their families and declares a Food Poverty Emergency. We commit to:

– Designating a Food Champion: a lead member for food poverty at Cherwell District Council
– Establishing and reporting to Overview and Scrutiny Committee on the scale of the food poverty crisis in Cherwell
– Drawing up a Cherwell Food Action Plan that supports local communities in helping to relieve the food poverty emergency, in line with the new countywide food strategy
– Developing a promotional campaign that raises awareness of underclaimed Healthy Start food vouchers
– Supporting local communities to reduce food waste and improve the food choices of residents and continuing to be an active member of the Cherwell Community Food Network.”

It was really important that the motion was not seen as confrontational. We had to get the Conservatives on board. Sometimes, just occasionally, in order to get to where we need to go, you have to park the politics and travel a less familiar road. Labour Group leader and fellow co-operator, Cllr Sean Woodcock, kindly agreed to contact the Conservative leader in advance to ‘sound them out.’ Although not categoric, the vague indications were positive. The debate was short but comradely. Not only were the Conservatives going to support the motion, but they had already identified the lead member who was going to take responsibility for delivery. The motion was carried on a unanimous vote. Through the Overview & Scrutiny Committee and the extra places won in May, as mentioned earlier, we will be able to hold his action plan delivery to account.

As a direct result of this Co-operative Party motion, at least in our part of the world, fewer people will go hungry. Opposition stinks just a tiny bit less today.