Paul Arnott: Overwhelmed by the many examples of kindness I have seen
PUBLISHED: 08:00 09 October 2020
A view from East Devon Council leader Paul Arnott
I’d just like to begin this debut column by thanking the publishers for this opportunity. A free press is the hallmark of any democracy and I wish the new direction that this paper is taking the very best of luck.
Of course, we all know that most of our national newspapers are owned by an assorted clutch of off-shore billionaires, and despite their claims not to meddle with their papers’ editorial line, they blatantly do.
But I think readers are smart enough to see this. They buy a newspaper which – by and large – reflects their own views. Local papers, however, are to my mind much more important in helping citizens hear about and understand the democracy in the places where they live.
Many might pick up a paper for the youth football results, news of a successful charity jumble sale, or just to buy a car.
But when the chips are down those same people will want to hear about a proposed by-pass, or why their public loos have not been fully opened during Covid-19, or the reasons for some town councillors to be doing battle over funding for a new football pitch.
However, equally there must be room for good news too. In recent months we have come to understand that more than ever.
The way in which our East Devon towns and villages have dug in and helped our neighbours since March is well worth celebrating.
As we head into another rocky period all those same generous attributes will doubtless come to the fore again.
In a way we are living through a period of historic importance, and as both a private person and as leader of the district council, I have been overwhelmed by the many examples of kindness I have seen.
This will guarantee that when the history of 2020 is written, how we conducted ourselves as a society and the altruism on display will be greatly to our credit.
All this has made me feel very fortunate to live where we do, but also very mindful that people have been experiencing the lockdown phase in very different ways.
For some, and famously, it has been a period of learning to bake sour dough loaves, walking to places we didn’t know were on our own doorstep, and the very moving period of Thursday evening rounds of applause for workers in the NHS. In short, many have had one of the most remarkable summers of our lives.
For many others, however, it has been a fearful time. Those in protected categories were terrified for months even to leave their homes. Those in the tourism and hospitality sectors - for whom Easter and late spring contribute a vital part of their annual income - felt real hunger until lockdown was eased further in the summer.
In early March - when I could see what lay ahead - I felt that this was inevitably a two-year problem to be treated economically like a war. The Exchequer would have to do what must be done to keep as many jobs going as possible, and where that could not happen ensure that good local people did not slip into often concealed poverty and debt. This was how community spirit was preserved from 1939-1945.
In 1996, the then Chancellor Ken Clarke announced - in his final budget before the Blair era began - that he was pleased to say we had just paid off the debt for World War Two. Fifty years on! Most of that had been accrued by war loans from the USA and the manufacture of weapons and instruments of death.
Now we need to look at how we can finance a recovery with a similar financial instrument – but this time towards greener homes, sustainable and well-trained jobs, and even the possibility of a national wage.
We are about to learn that we cannot save ourselves by community spirit alone.
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