John's Jottings for June 2006

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

It's All About Standards

We hear a lot about standards in public life these days—Prescott's antics being the most recent of a lengthening line of unbecoming government ministerial conduct. But what about at local level? What about local councillors like me? What if we fail to comply with our statutory Code of Conduct?

Well, for us there is a Standards Committee within the council, comprising a few counillors but—more importantly—a greater number of outside members including an independent chairman. Complaints and allegations of misconduct can be taken there in the first instance.

If that should prove insufficient for some reason, or (more likely) the complainant just wants to push harder to get the desired outcome, then there is the Standards Board for England (SBE). This body has the unenviable task of dealing with all manner of complaints from around the country.

The downside to the SBE is that, because it is so easy to make a complaint or allegation (and it isn't necessary to go to the Standards Committee first), they are prone to receiving an apparently very large number of spurious and mischief-making allegations. This has become, for example, a handy wheeze for members of one political party to cause trouble for their political opponents. This is yet another way to waste taxpayers' money, of course, so anyone mis-using the facility for such ends really would be low, and probably desperate!

Now, I have been aware of all the above for some time, but could not easily write about it for readers' benefit as it is all rather internal and not very interesting to the average person.

This has now changed!

I can now produce documentary evidence of such a spurious case, as it was directed against me by one Derek Munton, formerly a Labour member of Medway Council (but voted off the council in 2003) and live-in partner of a current Labour councillor, who was probably also involved in this attempt to damage me.

Of course, they couldn't—damage me, that is, in any way. They have tried other means, none of which had any effect, so were getting desperate. Ah yes! I mentioned such desperation above...

Anyway, I won't go into great detail here, but have provided scans of the documents I received on this, so you can see for yourself just how spurious this allegation was. Indeed, my favourite part is the bit that states that even if the allegation were valid, it still wouldn't have been a breach of the Code of Conduct on my part. The letter to the local newspaper referred to in the document is this one, which was written over 18 months ago, and clearly has no reference to how I would vote in respect of any planning application should one have been made in the (then) future. Here are the documents:

Okay, so how much of your money did it cost to deal with this obviously false allegation? We are finding out, and are awaiting disclosure of this information. I'd expect it to be in the hundreds of pounds area. With large numbers of similarly politically-motivated cases coming in to the SBE every year, this is a significant waste of your money.

How to discourage this practice? Well, I'd change the law so that anyone making an obviously spurious allegation was banned from holding any public office for life. Now that would be a disincentive! In the case of the allegation against me, this should apply to both participants.

Okay, so that isn't being done, but we can certainly play our part in ensuring that neither of them gets re-elected next year. This is true "people power" at work!

So, especially to readers who will be able to vote in Rochester East ward of Medway Council, or who know someone who will: look for the name "Derek Munton" and any other (Labour, of course!) candidate at the same address, and ensure that you don't vote for them. Pass the word!

Next time: Business as Usual