The Borough of Fareham is in a complete state of oligarchy.
Robert Michels describes oligarchy as “rule by a small dominant group to which the rank and file membership do not have the means to hold the group accountable”. In Fareham’s case this is the members of the executive on the council, more importantly it’s the upper echelons of the Conservative group. The other councillors within the group have little to no say as I see it, at the same time they are merely there to maintain the status quo set out by the group – are any attempts to step out of the line are met with threats of deselection and other anti-democratic means of coercion? Who knows? The silence against the elite of the group is deafening.
There are three stages within our political system that allows for local government to be run in a state of oligarchy, the first is described as “transaction costs” whereby initially there was real democracy present however as the system became larger as did the electorate, it became increasingly difficult to manage without significant change to the system as a whole which – with the power Local Government has currently – is impossible at this stage. The second stage is membership lethargy and the result of this is the third stage of elite control. Fareham is currently somewhere between the latter two stages.
Although it is not often present in our media, as outlets such as the Portsmouth News and Daily Echo (outside of election periods) may focus more on either the nicety nice feel good or rampant scary paper selling stories rather than telling the facts, we are all aware of the division in the Fareham Conservative branch. There is such disparity in the ruling party, it is primarily the MP, Conservative Group & Exec on FBC vs Conservative Members and supporters. In most other places across the UK this would be a gold mine for other parties to strike them at, what would be, an open goal. The answer to success is much more complex than this.
Because of the apathy of the electorate across the borough and political history of the area, the masses of Fareham will turn out in low numbers at each council election where there is consensus among the electorate that no significant change or issue raised will give them a reason to vote. Therefore it can be argued that they (the electorate) are prepared to allow the active few in the political arena (Conservatives) to settle the questions and issues of our Borough. The leaders (exec of FBC) will often promote the interests of the Conservatives over that of the public interest, despite what reputation it will give them among more critical members of the electorate outside of the political paradigm of the borough. Which leads to a guarantee of these leaders’ continual re-election, when was the last time Cllr Seán Woodward was seriously challenged in his seat?
This all places our borough in a state of elite control. Which creates some sort of “groupthink” mob mentality in a political sense against anyone who isn’t a Conservative. For instance, look at the way Shaun Cunningham, myself, Katrina Trott, Paul Whittle etc have been attacked not just in the press, but within the literature the Conservatives put out. Former anti-Welborne activist Tom Davies and Cllr Chris Wood who were both part of UKIP in the space of a year or so have since become part of this autocratic ideological fan club. When challenged, the elite will do deals with newcomers or at least the ones that threaten their power. What deals were done here then?
In short, Fareham is definitively not a dictatorship nor is it a proper democracy – it is an oligarchy.