Val Compton stands down accusing Marlborough town councillors of creating a toxic “impenetrable web of intrigue”
The “toxic” atmosphere generated by Marlborough’s town councillors amid an “impenetrable web of intrigue” has resulted in its latest member, campaigner Val Compton, to take the dramatic decision not to seek election next month.
“I hoped that a council chamber could be somewhere I could contribute and make a difference,” she announces in her personal blog. “Pah! I felt immediately under attack, it seemed more about politicking, tactics and ensuring all your support prior to meetings.
“It's like being in a huge game with bizarre rules and some very long serving councillors play it well. Rather too well, as in my view, this approach does nothing for the town. The game is not for me.”
Mrs Compton, admired for her High Court fight to save Savernake Hospital’s minor injuries department and a boycott campaign against Caffe Nero, is but one of at least six of the 16 current councillors not seeking election on May 2.
They include Marlborough’s current Mayor, Edwina Fogg, currently being treated for cancer, Richard Pitts, Graham Francis, and Tory councillor Tony Spranger.
Mrs Compton, who has campaigned to boost local tourism, raised River Kennet issues and the lack of residents’ car parking, was co-opted on to the council last July following the resignation of former mayor and Tory councillor Robin Notton.
She told Marlborough News Online then: “Will I be any good as a town councillor? – I don’t know. I might be hopeless at it. But I want to see if I can make a difference.”
Now she declares: “I may well go down as the ‘briefest’ serving councillor in Marlborough history -- I don't know, as I haven't checked that fact. However, nine months is certainly a short time, but plenty long enough to tell me that I did not wish to prolong the experience.
“I've worked in various jobs over the years and have done more voluntary than paid work, such as being a town councillor which is, of course, voluntary work. Only Wiltshire councillors are paid.
“Most people choose to do voluntary work because they believe in something, or want to support something or have a personal reason.
“I believed I might be able to contribute through the council to Marlborough life, I wanted to try and support the work of the council and the reason I had was purely and simply my love for this town.
“I want Marlborough to shine, I want visitors to be bowled over when they come here and I want it to be the best place to live for people from all walks of life.
“It would have been nice to join a team of people with like minds --and many of them were like minds -- but the atmosphere was what I can really only describe as sort of toxic.”
Mrs Compton, a widow who this week celebrates 17 years in Marlborough, adds: “It was difficult to analyse from ‘the outside’, so I thought I might be able to make a difference on ‘the inside’, but this proved to be difficult. I felt I was caught in an impenetrable web of intrigue really -- most people will say
‘Well that's Politics’.
“I have, as many of you will realise, a genuine concern about politics, rather than common sense, being involved at town council level... but it wasn't even quite as simple as that.
The Tories, whose party I left before joining the council, were not all bad, but in my personal view, they were a source of much political toxicity.
“Barring some of course, a very quiet chap who didn't get too involved, but worth listening to or another who seems to toe a local party line -- but did it with great charm if little understanding.
It became obvious after only a couple of meetings, that you must plan ahead for a "damage limitation" strategy before meetings even happen. It became clear that new ideas could be scuppered, old wounds opened up, everything called into question and ways forward barred or just made complicated, very easily.”
Mrs Compton points out: “You needed to plan well ahead, yet always a couple of councillors seemed to have planned meticulously, how they were going to bring an idea down!
“In my naivety I hoped that a council chamber could be somewhere I could contribute and make a difference.
Pah! I felt immediately under attack, it seemed more about politicking, tactics and ensuring all your support prior to meetings…
“After a few months I found I trusted no one -- not even myself -- because devious thinking does not come naturally to me and I really couldn't cope with this approach. There were things I wanted to get on with...and things that landed in my lap which were huge pieces of work, that apparently no one else had the interest, the time or the capacity to do.”
“I was fortunate to get support from Lib Dems and Independents, but conscious all the time of watching my back somehow.
“A few weeks of plotting and planning dragged me down and I found it really demoralising. I loathed the rows in meetings, the formalities, the point scoring, the ego building and really couldn't take the manipulative atmosphere in which I found myself.
“Feeling increasingly miserable I knew I had to make a decision about standing -- I started to consciously have that debate in my head many weeks if not months ago. I truly wrestled with my conscience. I also had to justify my decision to myself.
“I knew if I stayed I would become a different and much harder person, in order to survive.”