Sunday, July 26, 2009

From One End of The Truth to Another

Prompted by my comments in the Thanet Gazette on Friday, there's an outburst of political hyperbole on Cllr Nottingham's weblog this weekend.

Along with the suggestion that Man never walked on the moon and little green men crashed their flying saucer at Roswell in New Mexico, we have:

"Cllr. Moores has confirmed there is a proposed policy on local blogs. I think he should publish his draft at the earliest opportunity. This will allow for the widest possible consultation. By keeping the plans secret for as long as possible, he is limiting debate on a matter of legitimate public interest."

This is, I'm afraid the usual left wing rhetoric I have come to expect from Clr Nottingham's weblog, straying from the facts and reflecting the political style of the Labour Party nationally.

First there's no tangible policy on a Blogs protocol that I'm aware of at present, even a draft. It's the same discussion that I'm sure he has shared,like me, with the monitoring officer on several occasions.

Secondly, what I have said quite clearly and repeatedly is that I believe all councillors, Nottingham included, have a public duty to be both courteous and responsible and should not responsibly permit (through unmoderated blogs), defamatory and malicious personal comments to appear concerning other councillors.

Thirdly, there's no suggestion of censorship of any kind. - This is ironic coming from a Labour Party which does everything in its power to control the media. - This is simply a legitimate concern from the council officers, that a blogging code of conduct, in terms of common courtesy, respect and moderation, would be a step forward in improving the atmosphere of local politics.

Call me old-fashioned if you like but I consider grown-up, polite, intelligent and perhaps even a little humourous debate to be more productive than Blog headlines such as "Cllr 'N' Embarrasing Birchington", where you will now have that statement sitting on the internet forever, for no good reason other than cynical political malice.

Before I go, there's been some passing comment on the weblogs, Cllr Nottingham's included about 'sneaked-in' increased parking charges.

Readers and opposition politicians may have noticed a financial crisis in the economy which impacts local councils but that's besides the point.

I'm informed by council officers that short stay, on street parking charges were:

- 30 mins - 50p

- 1 hour - 90p

- 1.5 hours - £1.30

- 2 hours - £1.70

In consultation with leading members of the Thanet traders group the charges have been revised and are now:

- 10 mins - 20p (minimum charge)

- 13 mins - 25p

- 30 mins 45p

- 1 hour - 90p

- 1.5 hours - £1.35

- 2 hours - £1.80

You'll notice the important 30 minutes to 1 hour charges. This is actually 5p cheaper and there's now a minimum charge for a ten minute stay, so you don't have to pay 50p anymore.

All in all, this is what the traders were happy with and I'm happy to pay 20p rather than 50p when I drop into the bank. However, please note the levels of exaggeration about these charges elsewhere and draw your own conclusions when it comes to other stories and such 'facts' you may read from the same sources.


Stop Manston Expansion Group said...

Dr, Whatever you charge in Thanet's town centres, it will always be 100% more expensive than Westwood Cross.

Only two actions can redress this balance - make parking in the towns free, or make Westwood charge.

When will either of these happen?

Peter Checksfield said...

Seems reasonable enough, but aren't the existing UK laws governing what can be written on a blog (as in any other publication such as newspapers etc) sufficient?

DrM. said...

On the first comment, the parking rates for the towns can't be considered excessive for the majority of cases. The traders want trade of course but they also wish to see movement or churn in the number of vehicles parked at any time. If there are no charges then there is a temptation for motorists to block very limited parking spaces in the high streets.

On the second point, granted UK libel laws exist but that's a separate issue. What's being suggested is an informal agreement among councillors to commit to personal standards of self expression and moderation which don't descend into the gutter and further discredit local politics as a consequence.

It seems strange to me that I even have to raise the principle of courtesy and intelligent debate or have we fallen so low in Thanet that defamation and exaggeration are considered legitimate forms of self expression and political free speech?.

Is that really what people want and expect of us locally? I really hope that this is not the case because if it is, I can't see much of a political future ahead for the island and I really don't think I would wish to be part of that world either.

Peter Checksfield said...

Simon, I don't like some of the comments made on councillors blogs either, but I really don't see how an "informal agreement" can work. What happens if someone breaks this agreement, as inevitably they soon will?

Anonymous said...

First of all, you need an agreement to actually exist in practise rather than as a idea!

In principle, I wuld agree with the monitoring officer that a standard of personal courtesy and sensible comment moderation is a sound idea on a councillor's weblog.

Should someone choose not to follow such a principle then it opens them up to a legitimate public standards complaint, which in turn costs the taxpayer money to pursue.

So why not express yourself in a way which attracts public respect, saves a potential loss of taxpayers' money and passes intelligent political comment on events without any suggestion of censorship or stifling so-called 'free speech'?

Or would you prefer the Derek Draper school of political blogging?

Cllr. Mike Harrison said...

All of which is all very well and good but what do we Councillors who choose to blog do about the busy Anonymous poster who can post the most insulting and defamatory remarks with impunity. We have no recourse to anyone, so it seems that we have to suffer the insults but if we make even a slightly controversial remark we can be subjected to some form of discipline or sanction

DrM. said...

Mike, that's why Blogger has comment moderation as a feature. I don't like having to use it and looking at my Blog, I have pages of comments from possibly the same individual who writes in the early hours of the morning, here and anywhere elsewhere, that he can slip-in defamatory or malicious comment unnoticed.

Most of us have had to turn comment moderation on at one time or another for just that reason and as responsible local politicians I believe we should share a sense of responsibility for what appears on our weblogs.

Criticism and intelligent political comment should be both welcomed and encouraged but not the more controversial remarks if they prove to be in demonstrable poor taste.

As adults, we know the difference between right and wrong and intuitively recognise a comment or statement which is unjustified, damaging or defamatory.

Why not then set an example and make a collective decision to raise the bar when it comes to political debate or comment and set an example, as local politicians to others, who are quite happiliy prepared to let sordid and insulting comment pass in the so-called interest of free speech?

John Worrow said...

Thank you Simon for pointing out the "Embarrasing Birchington" comment that the councillor for Northwood used against me for daring to challenge a personal attack that was made against me.

I would like to think that he would now have the decency to remove that headline; by all means criticise my pro-airport views etc but please keep it real.

mnottingham said...

On the blogging protocol Simon you are seriously mistaken, and should apologise see
2. On parking not for the first time you decide not to link to my post in order to misrepresent it. Here it is
I requested details of the new parking scheme from the Council a week ago and still have not received it, so yes it is being sneaked in, and it is an increase.

3. If anybody wishes me to change my blog then all they have to do is write to me. I have previously withdrawn comments at the request of a Birchington councillor for example. I have had no such request recently. Again you could link to the relevant posts so your readers could make their own minds up. Again you choose not to do so, I think people can draw their own conclusions as to why you do this.

DrM. said...

As if to prove my point, I see that Cllr Nottingham has published an unusual personal attack on his weblog this evening.

I've responded:


This is unmitigated drivel of the cheapest kind I'm afraid.

I repeat and for the record, this is a discussion prompted by concerned council officers. There is no tangible policy that I am aware of. There is no written protocol that I have seen, discussed or otherwise. There has never been at any time, any suggestion of Labour members being excluded from such discussions. In fact, I raised the very same concerns in conversation with both your Whip and Deputy Leader over a week ago. A matter you are clearly unaware of.

I politely suggest that you reconsider your rather hysterical outburst in view of the facts and cease bringing your party into more disrepute than it is already suffering on a national and almost daily basis!"

John Worrow said...

I appeal to Mark Nottingham to remove the false statements that he made against me.

I don't earn my living from politics like Mark Notingham does, in fact I don't recieve a penny from the tax payer, I even use my own money for some things that we do in the village.

BUT I am very concerned about my future employment prospects due to the lies that Mark Nottingham has told about me on his blog.

An employer could type my name in to google and see Marks smear campaign against me.

Unlike Mark I don't rely on the tax payer for my living.

There are two statements that he made about me that are untrue and should not be removed.

"John Worrow is a Birchington councillor who is failing to represent the good people of Birchington properly"

THIS IS UNTRUE, I work very hard.

2)John Worrow is a Councillor that is Embarrasing Birchington"

How can a Ramsgate man that works in London and Europe speak for our villagers?

I have been working hard non-stop, door to door all week end promoting the event that is talking place in Westgate/Birchington and the people are totally behind me.

I spend a lot of time on the street in Birchington, working with people from all social backgrounds. Hard work and action is how our villagers will judge me, not by a Ramsgate man's smear campaign.

I withdrew my complaint against Mark partly because I wanted to give him a break.

please remove those two statements that you made against me, Mark; then you can get on with what you do, and I can carry on with my parish work.

Anonymous said...

You are aware Simon that publishing is a way of taking ground from those with something to hide. Years ago it was done by pamphlets. It is the equivalent of the shock troop. You take ground and let the opponent determine if he wants to dispute it.

We have to be very careful of enabling persons to declare their ground neutral territory not to be taken. This obviates the need for them to defend on the facts. Censorship means they can dispute the way something is said to avoid dispute of what is said. "Oh poor me everyone suffering emotive language being called a traitor sob sob" ? Thus neatly avoiding contesting the asserted fact that he is a traitor.

Much has been written on blogs about "malicious" about "libel" about "defammatory".

But in the recent years of Thanet blogging the only blogger involved in litigation was me, as far as I know, when I issued proceedings against Suffolk Chief constable who, as you know, retired as Chief constable suddenly aged 53 (nice public sector parasite pension work if you can get it eh ?)

Let us look at the history. I have been "Slagged" off on blogs on these issues when I first raised them:

Gun Range activity
Thor aquifer contamination
Sericol aquifer contamination
Deal Barracks bombing 1989
Sabotage and unreliability of back up generators made in Thanet
Arrests for paramilitary activity Thanet TA 1987
Pseudo military cadet groups in Kent
The need for epidemiological study of health effects of Thanet's decades of contaminated water

A lot of people wanted the irritating bloke to shut up. But fact is I brought in every one of the above ... FOI applications, changes to Electrical Security of Supply Regs etc Cancellation of KCC Youth Group affiliation status etc

I have tried time and again to slap one of your senior tory colleagues with a gauntlet. He should stop whinging. Fact is he has accepted his public slapping and contested not one iota of fact. This is shock trooping his ground. Taking his ground. Giving him the opportunity to sue. Even given that he is beyond limitation to sue. He should stop expecting people to give him the benefit of the doubt. If he thinks anything I have written about him is untrue, irrational or unfair the Courts are waiting. He can use them. The question for the fair minded is why hasn't he used the Courts ? Why does he fear the Courts more than me ?

When you go along the route of formalizing sympathy and embedding protective censorship for such loathsome Thanet tory councillor traitors of the Realm then you are going against centuries of British history,rights, tradition and law.

The blog is merely the modern day pamphlet. Comment moderation is there for those who wish to weigh whether to publish the remarks made by others.

DrM. said...

As an afterthought and for the benefit of Cllr Nottingham, "To sign-up to an idea in principle" is not the same as signing in fact.

Ergo.. "I sign-up to the principle" of a blogging protocol among councillors as part of a conversation on the subject but have yet to see anything material presented on the same...

Anonymous said...

is anyone aware of the arrangements being made for the arrival of 12500 Sierra Leone's arriving on Saturday for a day out on margate sands its been on sky tv and london radio stations. Are the parking spaces available for 250 coaches and what about toilet facilities portaloos ect ? its supossed to be the biggest gathering of Africans in Europe

Anonymous said...

Quote"The traders want trade of course but they also wish to see movement or churn in the number of vehicles parked at any time. If there are no charges then there is a temptation for motorists to block very limited parking spaces in the high streets."

Think about people who park in Margate are there for the same reason as Westwood they want to shop. Limit the timed parking for FREE in the high Street but why charge. Yes you are going to say enforcement blah blah but that minor amount could be absorbed by the rates. I shop in Margate for as little as possible saving it up for a trip to Westwood as I be-grudge paying extra to spend my hard earned cash when the same can be had whilst parked for FREE at Westwood. Competition kills......I wonder why Westwood wins even though the traffic is horrendous....Hmmmmmm

ascu75 aka Don said...

parking charges are wrong the people they hurt pay expensive and in my mind exorbitant business rates I cannot understand nwhy anyone would consider trading in Thanets high streets........ Blogs Simon are you saying you dont want or do want censorship I am unable to decifer your comments so far ????? Don

DrM. said...

Don, as I have written here and elsewhere, there has NEVER been any suggestion of censorship whatsoever in regard to councillors Blogs.

Instead, as outlined in the letter by the council's Chief Exec on Tony Flaig's weblog, councillors are bound by a code of conduct and must be careful to work, represent and express themselves within the same. Thus, some 'guidance' may be necessary in regard to what is appropriate when writing online or managing a weblog.

I hope that helps?