Tuesday, 2 August 2011

English Standards

Attempts by the Reading Labour Party to use the local Standards Board as an instrument of suppression and oppression look to have finally come shuddering to a halt after a recent set of embarrassing rulings from Standards for England.

Labour has been abusing the Standards Committee for years by reporting opposition members to it for the most bogus of reasons (curiously I note that the panel has let Labour members off for hurling offensive insults at other councillors during council meetings!)

Over the last year there has been a string of referrals about me from Labour councillors, union officials and their election candidates where I have exposed their hypocrisy, double standards, bare-faced lies and borderline illegality. These referrals have been made with only one aim - to shut me up.

Their latest attempt has now spectacularly back-fired when, after they discovered that they did not have the power to disqualify me as a councillor for making a political protest at the Annual Meeting of the council, they referred Tony Page's quite pathetic and politically motivated complaint to Standards for England.

I have always and consistently maintained that I have had the right to political expression and freedom of comment, especially when it comes to this blog, which obviously causes problems to an oppressive and authoritarian party like the Labour Party.

The good news for lovers of civil liberties and the rights of the individual is that my long held assertion has been upheld by Standards for England.

Article 10 [of the European convention on Human Rights] gives a high degree of protection to political comment, the postcard and blog entries provided are clearly about specific matters of political and public interest. [My highlighting.]

Bearing in mind that on a previous similar complaint the local panel ruled: "Whilst the comments were critical it did not consider them to be unfair, unreasonable or demeaning of these people within the context they were made" their decision to refer matters in this instance was rather perverse.

In this respect Standards for England again found that I wasn't engaged in personal abuse for its own sake in finding: "the comments are not serious enough insults about the personal qualities of the individuals concerned nor do they amount to mere personal abuse such as to justify a finding that there has been disrespect under the code."

So how did the local Standards Board get it so spectacularly wrong?

Easy, the clue is in their referral to Standards for England where they refer to "underpinned by a persistent pattern of behaviour which attracted complaints."

Yes, we have it in black and white. The local Standards Board considers the quantity of complaints as being a factor, not the quality or motivation. Not a single complaint against me ever got to the stage where I could give mitigation or make a defence. All were of matters of political and public interest. And all were made by members of the Labour Party who were pursuing a monkey faeces policy of throwing as much as they could hoping some would stick and in the eyes of the local panel it was successful.

But by taking it as far as they did, Labour now has blown it in terms of oppression as in addition to kicking out their malicious complaint, Standards for England has also ruled that councillors are not subject to the code unless as acting as representatives of the council. It is not enough to be acting as a member and that new advice now calls into question all their previous findings against me when acting in a political situation about matters of clear political and public interest and especially the ability of them to pontificate over my blog entries.

One curious aspect was that Tony Page made a complaint to the local Standards Boards on behalf of the Greens. Yes, that's right, Labour made a complaint on behalf of the Green Party. I spoke to Rob White about whether he was involved and I got a slightly evasive "can't remember" rather than an outright denial.

I will err on the side of caution and believe that Rob knew nothing about it. However, given Labour's arrogance, it is perfectly conceivable that they felt that they could speak on behalf of their junior partners. If Rob wishes to position his party against Labour, he needs to start being a little less evasive in his answers and a little less reliant on abstentions to make his case that the Greens are an independent party.

I hear that Labour are determined to continue with a local Standards Board despite the Localism Bill stripping them of any material power. That will mean £2,500 of council tax money to continue to pay for the chair of the committee, as well as tens of thousands of pounds in support services and wasted officer hours for a toothless structure simply so that Labour can continue making threats to councillors who dare to stand up against them. I wonder which member of council staff they will be making redundant this time to pay for their political posturing?

Of course, there have to be some rules but when the rules are being used to stifle political debate and undermine the democratic process then there is something seriously wrong with the state of local democracy.

I have written to Eric Pickles about Reading Labour's continual abuse of the standards process and asked for assurances that locally constituted boards will have no right to interfere in the political process and asked about what steps he will take to prevent abuse now and into the future.

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