Tuesday 1 August 2006

A parish that's really going places

While the eyes of the world are on Israel’s invasion of southern Lebanon, another power is expanding by stealth. Yes, the forces of Whittingham are on the move again, and this time they have in their sights the remote and beautiful parish of Alnham, in the glorious Cheviot Hills.

A letter I have just received from Alnwick District Council informs me that the residents of Alnham have not had a parish council to represent them in recent years, so Whittingham thought it would be a good idea if it took them over. As imperialists through the ages have tried to fill any power vacuum that comes to their attention.

Whittingham has been quietly and successfully pursuing its strategy of Lebensraum for some years now, having already absorbed the neighbouring parish of Callaly without a shot being fired. Quite an achievement, really, given the number of guns owned thereabouts, albeit for the pursuit of game birds and vermin rather than self-defence. Well, on paper, anyway. It’s probably best not to enquire too closely into how they define vermin in Callaly. Let’s just say that they don’t get a lot of successful burglaries.

The fortunate residents of Alnham clearly have better things to do than sitting around in parish council meetings, preferring to devote their time to more exciting things like drinking beer and watching their crops grow. I envy them, since by the same token they presumably don’t have to pay an inexplicable Whittingham Parish Council precept as part of their annual tax bill. True, it only amounted to 1.5% of my council tax last year, but it had gone up by an incredible 47.1%. And for what?

The parish and the county are the traditional units by which England is governed, and I wish I could find it in my heart to love parish councils more. But they do give a very good impression of being comprehensively useless. They are also all too often self-appointed, undemocratic and unrepresentative.

The recent parish council elections may have caused great excitement in Ambridge, as Lynda Snell fought it out with Lilian Bellamy, but it’s not that way round here. Indeed, as Alnwick District Council point out in their letter, at the last parish council non-election, only half the ten seats allocated for Whittingham were actually filled. And that was before the parish council’s chairman resigned in a modest blaze of publicity earlier this year, because the district planning authority takes not a blind bit of notice of his council’s views on local developments. Which, I think, rather proves my point about how much use it is.

If Callaly was Whittingham’s Austria, then Alnham would be its Sudetenland. And who can tell what might be in line to be its Czechoslovakia or Poland? Glanton, to the north, occupies commanding heights where it should be possible to deploy artillery to good effect. But to the south lies the sparsely populated parish of Cartington and beyond it the fertile pastures of the Coquet valley. Can this possibly be the manifest destiny for which Whittingham yearns?

In the usual way of democracy in this country, the takeover – sorry, I mean the ‘grouping proposal’ of Whittingham, Callaly and Alnham – is subject to consultation with ‘all affected residents’. If you don’t bother to write a letter of objection, you are deemed to consider it a cracking idea. In the unbelievably unlikely event that the majority of residents do object, does that mean the plan will be dropped? Of course not. But ‘details of such objections [will] be submitted to the [District] Council for further consideration’.

I’ve already posted my letter of objection, but when a land-hungry power is at loose, sometimes only direct action will suffice. I’ve already found a suitable headscarf and I’m now looking for a convenient cave to serve as the headquarters of my resistance movement. Something out beyond Ewartly Shank would do me nicely. Any offers?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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