“HANDS OFF!” campaigners got civic support in Hedon on Saturday with a formal proclamation in the Market Place read out by the Mayor’s Sergeant at Mace and Town Crier, Dave Young.
The booming voice of the Town Crier, served to notify residents that the Boundary Referendum was taking place and ballot forms needed to be returned by Friday 26th September 2014. With the Mayor of Hedon Councillor John Dennis dressed in his chains of office and stood behind the “Hands Off!” banner, the implication was clear – the civic establishment in the town is calling for a ‘No’ vote to both referendum questions.
Of course the civic endorsement for the “No, No” campaign is of little surprise – the Mayor of Hedon is the leader of the “Hands Off!” campaign and the Town Crier has expressed his own personal view in a very public way with his recent one-man-protest in the centre of town.
What is surprising in the Boundary Referendum organised by the East Riding of Yorkshire Council, is the lack of any campaign whatsoever to support an alternative to voting ‘No’.
Whilst calling for a ‘Yes’ vote to either question in the ballot might not seem popular, some of the other issues raised during this campaign could have served to raise the level of debate – but there have been no local champions willing to stand forward and defend the aspirations of a new form of local government for Hull and the East Riding that is larger and more effective.
A social media challenge by the Hedon Blog to find someone willing to defend the aspirations of Hull City Council in a public debate in Hedon did not receive any response. An opportunity to ‘raise the game’ and discuss some of the more in-depth issues associated with the referendum has been missed.
Notably in the debate the party-political battles seem to have been suspended! Not a single press release has been issued on the subject of the Boundary Referendum by the headquarters of any main-stream political party. Conservatives locally are supporting a ‘No’ vote, whilst in Hull they support the concept of a wealthier, more powerful city. Similarly, Labour in Holderness seemed to have rejected the expansion of Hull into the East Riding, something raised by the city’s party leaders. UKIP locally have raised concerns about the costs of the whole boundary debate – the Inquiry and the Referendum – but have urged residents to exercise their vote in the postal ballot.
The marketing of the Boundary Referendum by the East Riding Council has been remarkable and unprecedented in its scale. Every council public building, every public-facing window in a council building, and even council vehicles carry a referendum notice. East Riding Council leaders have invested heavily in this referendum and will expect a massive response in votes cast – and of course they expect the “No, No” vote to ‘win’ by a massive majority.
The results of the Boundary Referendum will be used by council leaders to demonstrate the strength of feeling in the East Riding on boundary reform for many years to come. As important as the final results are, critical eyes will be looking at the other evidence too – how many voted ‘Yes’, and significantly how many didn’t vote at all! Another factor to be considered is the level of debate attained; what were the bones of contention, the points of debate, the ideological conflicts – in this regard the campaign to date seems lacking.
Commentators have raised similarities between the East Riding Boundary Referendum and the Scotland Decides hustings. But while both camps in the Scotland Decides campaign have reached out and raised the level of debate and stirred passions on both sides, which will probably result in one of the biggest ever turnouts for a public poll – the East Riding Boundary Referendum has failed to do the same here.
Despite the predominance of “No, No” posters in the windows of Hedon homes, despite the marketing campaign, and despite the eventual results of the referendum, the discussion on Boundary and Local Government reform will not be ultimately resolved. The level of debate, informed discussion and engagement in the East Riding will need to be continuously raised for some time yet!
Remember: You have until 4pm Friday 26th September to return your ballot form! Lost your ballot papers? Contact the East Riding of Yorkshire Council now at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Telephone: 01482 393205/6.