Friday, January 14, 2011

Over Promoted

I read in today's 'soaraway' Thanet Gazette, that I'm now the 'Deputy Leader' of the council! I would of course like to thank the editor for my sudden promotion but have to ask if she's told my colleague, the real Deputy Leader, Councillor Wise yet or whether I should break the news over the bacon sandwiches at our regular informal cabinet meeting on Saturday morning?

Reading the paper,  I see that the great Hartsdown Park and Margate Football Club debate continues to run and I'm still seeing copies of emails that are flying around on the subject. I'm not sure how many different ways there are of reassuring the public over the future of the park and I attempted to explain the detail on Monday at the Westgate & Westbrook Residents meeting. I'm pleased to see the local paper published my letter on the same subject, which was also produced on this weblog last week.

In an election year, readers are bound to see a great deal of exaggerated coverage on what the council is or is not doing on everything from local development to council tax and litter collection. Inevitably, simple facts will be buried under a snowstorm of objections, petitions, letters and comments when invariably, the answer can be found at the end of a telephone line or simply by sending me an email.

Local Labour, I see, are already starting on a rather unpleasant campaign, with inflammatory press releases designed to manipulate the search engines.

Rather than attack the content of these statements, which are frequently at odds with my own recollection of events, I want to make it clear that nobody prevents the opposition from involving themselves in proper debate. However, most recently, the local Labour group have appeared at both Council and Cabinet with pre-prepared statements or indeed, short speeches, such as that delivered by Cllr Watkins on Thursday evening which rambled on extensively about 'Conservative Millionaires' and the number of 'luxury yachts' being sold at this year's London boat show.

In council, much like Parliament, one would expect the opposition to ask a question and then receive an answer. At Westminster, you will see the Speaker intervene if an MP wastes parliamentary time by launching into a prepared speech and the same is true here in Thanet. As I politely pointed-out to Cllr Johnston on Thursday: "I would be very happy to answer your question if you actually have one to ask." (sic)

What I would be very unhappy to see is local Labour, who lack political debating skills in any real sense of the word, turning-up to council meetings with speeches, that magically appear as press releases after the event. As such, the chair has every reason to ask the person involved to sit-down rather than 'Filibuster', which is what we have been seeing in recent months. Politics is a form of live entertainment and standing on a soapbox, delivering a speech, which frequently has little or nothing to do with the subject in hand, is not a good way of serving the people of Thanet. I hope Cllrs Watkins, Poole, Johnston and Hart in particular will take notice. I am pleased to say that Cllr Nicholson is uniquely capable of speaking lucidly without subjecting us to a lengthy and pre-prepared speech on the faded glories of socialism and the moral collapse of international bankers.


Michael Child said...

Simon I suppose as it’s me that publishes the Labour Press Releases on the Thanet Press Release blog and since the demise of Mark Nottingham’s blog I haven’t found the elsewhere, I ought to say a couple of things.

The main one being that the Conservative Group should publish some sort of account of the meetings, particularly in these days of open government, so we the public know what is going on.

Also you, the councillors ought to get the council to get its act together and publish the information in a timely manner.

The last full council meetings were held on 16th December nearly a month ago, two meetings on one day, the first meeting’s webcast appeared after five days, the second meetings webcast after abuot three weeks and even now nearly a month later still no sign of the minutes for either meeting on the council’s website.

I know that the draft minutes for Wednesday’s cabinet meeting went up promptly, but the whole business seems so disorganised and unpredictable.

DrM. said...


It's a valid point which I will pursue. However, I don't believe we should get into 'Punch & Judy' press release politics as this is really what 'Minutes' are for.

It really is quite tedious to listen to a speech (political lecture) delivered instead of a scheduled question and Cllr Johnston had to be warned twice on Thursday about this.

Ask me a question in council and I will give you an answer but for heaven's sake let's put an end to this constant socialist barracking, followed by equally constant interruptions on rather dubious and so called 'points of order' that wastes everyone's time to no immediate purpose!!

Andrew said...

It is very obvious that the local Labour group is beset with election fever. Maybe the chairman needs to further emulate the Speaker by barring councillors who persistently break the rules.
I also agree with Michael that, unfortunate though it is, the local Conservative group needs to take a leaf out of Labours book and participate in press release politics; at least until the elections are over and Labour lose interest for another four years

Michael Child said...

Simon I think the point here is about disseminating information that is both comprehensible and accurate, an example being the BBC during WW2. I suppose a way of looking at this is that it develops trust, perhaps the difficulty for you as a cabinet member would be a propensity to assume that local people trust the council.

Examples of poor communication of information causing resentment and anger seem to be at least as common as cases of the council making wrong decisions causing problems.

Perhaps the key here is with the council’s departments that are supposed to furnish us with information, both the press department and the information department, perhaps the council could save money by reducing this to one department that actually tried to tell us what is going on.

You know the type of thing I mean sifting the planning applications about double glazing, so we actually find out about one like the Hartsdown one, or telling us that a major consultation about the council’s leadership consultation.