A sad day for democracy in East Yorkshire

November 10, 2011 4:50 PM

Council standards committees were set-up as a way of disciplining councillors who have brought their office into disrepute. They were designed as a way of investigating sleaze. What happened at a meeting of the Standards Committee in the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) yesterday proved once again that they are increasingly being used as a way of stifling debate, and forcing councillors to toe the line.

Conservative councillor Paul Robinson was censured not for something he said, but for two comments he allowed to be posted on his blog. One of the comments described Mike Whitley -  a political rival of Cllr Robinson - as an "absolute idiot" and another one said that in Mark Twain's day, troublemakers were stripped, tarred and feathered before being ridden out of town. The person who made the comment then said that was not something he was advocating. A little tongue in cheek perhaps, but nothing that can be described as defamatory. Mr Whitley took exception to those comments, and reported Cllr Robinson to ERYC.

The case should have been thrown out immediately. It was clearly vexatious, but instead ERYC - which has form when it comes to wasting our money - took this case all the way to a standards committee hearing. The cost of this is unknown, although I will be sending a freedom of information request to find out. The punishment meted out was merely a wrap on the knuckles, and under the circumstances even that was a nonsense.

This case is very worrying on many levels. We elect councillors to speak their mind. If we don't like what they say, we always have the opportunity to kick them out next time they stand for election. Councillors who do blog about their work and local issues are opening up channels of communication and debate, which is the hallmark of a free society. We may not like what other people write about us, but it is their right to do that. If I took exception at everything that is said about me, there wouldn't be enough hours in the day for me to get on with my job.

Cllr Robinson was not accused of saying anything defamatory himself, which is why this charade is breathtaking in its nonsense. It eats at the heart of our democracy. It turns councillors into automatons, fearing if they say anything or allow people to leave comments on their blog, they will be hauled before the standards committee. It closes down channels of communication, and makes councillors less accessible. It makes them less likely to speak out, and stand up for what they believe in.

In a press release sent to me yesterday, Cllr Robinson ended by saying:
If ever there was an example of why the Government is right to abolish this expensive and misused system, this is it. Absolutely nothing has been achieved and no difference has been made apart from the taxpayers get the bill for someone to pursue a personal, vexatious political agenda. 

He is correct. Taxpayers are being forced to pick up the tab for another nail being hammered into the coffin of democracy.

 Council standards committees were set-up as a way of disciplining councillors who have brought their office into disrepute. They were designed as a way of investigating sleaze. What happened at a meeting of the Standards Committee in the East Riding of Yorkshire Council (ERYC) yesterday proved once again that they are increasingly being used as a way of stifling debate, and forcing councillors to toe the line.

Conservative councillor Paul Robinson was censured not for something he said, but for two comments he allowed to be posted on his blog. One of the comments described Mike Whitley -  a political rival of Cllr Robinson - as an "absolute idiot" and another one said that in Mark Twain's day, troublemakers were stripped, tarred and feathered before being ridden out of town. The person who made the comment then said that was not something he was advocating. A little tongue in cheek perhaps, but nothing that can be described as defamatory. Mr Whitley took exception to those comments, and reported Cllr Robinson to ERYC.

The case should have been thrown out immediately. It was clearly vexatious, but instead ERYC - which has form when it comes to wasting our money - took this case all the way to a standards committee hearing. The cost of this is unknown, although I will be sending a freedom of information request to find out. The punishment meted out was merely a wrap on the knuckles, and under the circumstances even that was a nonsense.

This case is very worrying on many levels. We elect councillors to speak their mind. If we don't like what they say, we always have the opportunity to kick them out next time they stand for election. Councillors who do blog about their work and local issues are opening up channels of communication and debate, which is the hallmark of a free society. We may not like what other people write about us, but it is their right to do that. If I took exception at everything that is said about me, there wouldn't be enough hours in the day for me to get on with my job.

Cllr Robinson was not accused of saying anything defamatory himself, which is why this charade is breathtaking in its nonsense. It eats at the heart of our democracy. It turns councillors into automatons, fearing if they say anything or allow people to leave comments on their blog, they will be hauled before the standards committee. It closes down channels of communication, and makes councillors less accessible. It makes them less likely to speak out, and stand up for what they believe in.

In a press release sent to me yesterday, Cllr Robinson ended by saying:
If ever there was an example of why the Government is right to abolish this expensive and misused system, this is it. Absolutely nothing has been achieved and no difference has been made apart from the taxpayers get the bill for someone to pursue a personal, vexatious political agenda. 

He is correct. Taxpayers are being forced to pick up the tab for another nail being hammered into the coffin of democracy.

 

Latest Blogs: