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Facts Correct. Full Stop.

February 21st, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 2 Comments · Politics

Richard’s comment on a previous post relates to a letter in today’s Crawley News, which I have now read, and it puts me in a bit of a fisking mood… and none of the following will be of the remotest interest to anyone outside Crawley, but never mind.

The background is that the newspaper two weeks ago had an article full of speculation about whether certain councillors would be standing for election again or not, and possible reasons why not if they weren’t. Such speculation is annoying, because both councillors are categorically not standing and the wards concerned have already selected replacement candidates.

So I wrote a letter, wearing my official Constituency Press Officer hat, which just laid out the facts. No comment, no opinion, no spin which is as it should be. If anything it was very restrained because I don’t actually like one of the councillors involved (no prize for guessing which one I’m afraid, but its all personal and not political) so had to be doubly careful to not let that affect me or the tone, and so I was deliberately non-judgemental.

This week there is a letter in reply from one of those councillors, Ben Clay. I don’t think I can be bothered to write back and prolong the saga in the letters page for another week, instead I shall reply here where I only speak for myself and not the party, which means I can be a bit more blunt…

Headline: Facts correct but comments untrue

Comments? I though I already said there were no comments. I have just re-read the original letter to make sure. Although it did not appear in the paper exactly as it left my computer (naughty!) it is close enough and I still can’t see any comment in it.

I am replying to Andrew Skudder’s letter of February 14 explaining the Labour Party’s selection procedure for 2007.

He was factually correct but his comments about me personally are totally untrue.

So, just to get this straight, it was factually correct, but not true. Apparently there are some bits which I thought were facts, but which he thinks are not. I have just read the original letter another time, in case I missed something, and it still looks bland and neutral to me. I can’t wait to see what he is getting worked up about.

I have never discussed with Robert Hull my decision to seek re-election or my intention to retire from politics.

Another fact, presumably. But since in my original letter I did not claim that he had discussed anything it is a bit of a non sequitur.

What I actually said was that “he was actively encouraged by the party chairman, Robert Hull, to take part..“. Actively encouraging does not necessarily mean discussing. Robert actually sent Ben a letter. ( A letter which the staff at the Crawley News have seen but decided not to mention at all. Instead they printed Ben Clay’s diatribe in the full knowledge that it is entirely a load of old bollocks.)

I really have no patience for someone who reads what their paranoid mind tells them has been written rather than what is actually written, and then complains about it.

On the other hand, the letter from the chairman starts “As we discussed this morning” and then goes on to answer a question put during that discussion. Now either Robert Hull put in a reference to a fictitious meeting in a letter dated July 10 in a foresighted move, just to stir things up seven months later, or there was a discussion and Ben Clay is either mistaken or lying. Shall we let Occam’s Razor decide that one?

For him to state the deadline for application was extended to facilitate me is a figment of his imagination.

So does that mean that the rest of the letter in July was a figment of my imagination as well? After starting off referring to that morning’s discussion, it continues “you are correct that the deadline had been set at 30 June, but I have decided that it would be right and proper to allow you more time.” There is nothing at all ambiguous about that, but if someone can forget an entire discussion it is easy enough to forget a short one-page letter.

Regarding the action by the Labour group and the party against me, if they wish to continue this debate publicly through the pages of the local press I shall be happy to oblige.

How kind of him. In fact far from ‘continuing the debate’ all I did was state that the encouragement to apply for selection (which he denies, despite documented proof) to the extent of bending rules on deadlines (which he also denies, despite documented proof) happened before that action. The group/party decision to withdraw the whip is unconnected. In the original newspaper article there were suggestions that councillor Clay was discouraged from seeking re-selection because of that action. I only stated that the whip-withdrawal occurred afterwards and so was not a factor.

The only person seeking to ‘continue the debate’ is Ben Clay himself but as there is no debate it is not possible to continue it. He broke a couple of party rules which apply to members representing the party so he was suspended from the group until he decided to return to compliance with those rules, which he has not done, so there is nothing to debate. At any point in the last year he could have taken corrective action and applied to re-join the group but has chosen not to. If he had done so, there might have been a debate about whether to let him back in, but he didn’t, so there wasn’t.

Of course that would have involved admitting being wrong in the first place, and as the evidence of today’s letter in the News shows he is more inclined to find new ways to be wrong than to admit to any previous mistakes or misdemenours.

I have no regrets at any decisions I have taken so far, in particular the provision of a site for travellers.

Travellers? What do they have to do with it? The suspension from the group was a direct result, as has been well-documented in the press, of the council’s AGM last year. The group were told they could nominate someone for the post of deputy chair of the licensing committee and decided, democratically, to nominate Colin Lloyd. At the AGM the Tories proposed Ben Clay and at the vote he voted for himself rather than his own group’s choice. He did not even abstain. He should, of course, have followed the group’s decision and declined the nomination if the Tories refused to withdraw it.

It is as simple as that. Travellers were not discussed, were not present at the meeting, and probably couldn’t give a monkey’s who is the deputy chair of licensing.

There was a meeting a couple of months before that meeting which was about travellers, where Ben also voted against the group’s decision but no action was taken against him for that, nor against the other 6 councillors who abstained instead of voting with the party whip.

I won’t even expand on what sort of person can have no regrets about any decision they have ever taken, except to surmise that humility is probably not their dominant character trait.

There is another paragraph about travellers, all totally irrelevant: just an excuse to air old prejudices but done in such a way that, without actually saying so, he encourages the reader to assume that there is a connection and that he is being persecuted for standing up against the travellers merely because of the proximity. There may be a connection in his deluded, paranoid mind, but in reality just putting two statements next to each other does not create a causal relationship.

Also on the proposals to transfer council houses to housing associations from day one I have felt passionately opposed.

I’m sure that is as true as it is totally irrelevant. What is going on here? You mess up and get punished for it, so reply by mentioning unconnected issues where your opinion has some popular support. What is the intention? Are we all supposed to say “I agree with you on council housing and travellers so therefore you must by extension also be right in all other matters, including the one where you are totally and provably wrong“? It doesn’t work that way.

All that mentioning the travellers and council housing issues does is remind us that the vote against the group whip at the AGM was not a fluke, and that he has a record of voting against the party. If you do that sort of thing often enough you have to expect to be caught up with eventually.

I have been a member of the Labour Party for fifty plus year, a Labour councillor for 36 years, and make no excuses for still being a “socialist” – a word that seems to have been forgotten by New Labour.

Ah! So its all Tony Blair’s fault then.

The Labour party is notoriously hung up on procedure and you don’t get to survive and progress in it without being able to follow a rule book. In this case long service must surely count against you since there must be an assumption that you would actually learn something during that time. A relative newcomer could get away with saying they were confused and did not realise what a particular rule meant.

What you cannot do is keep boasting about length of time in the town, in the party, on the council and on the planet at every opportunity, using it as a trump card to support every argument and then expect anyone to believe you don’t know the rules. You can’t have it both ways. As a past leader of the group (and council) one must surely be aware of the rules. Although it is before my time I have heard stories that while leader of the group Ben took similar action against another member for breaking exactly the same rule he did.

That is the sort of thing which would ‘continue the debate’ in the sense of applying arguments and logic: not just throwing in irrelevancies and trying to appeal to sentimental values to manipulate opinion. It appears that the art of spin is not confined to the New Labour – did they learn it from soi-disant socialists in the first place?

Socialism does not come into it. Committed socialists know the value of democracy and will support a democratically decided position even if they don’t agree with it, especially when they have signed a declaration stating that they will do exactly that. They don’t go against the democratic decision just so they can pick up an extra grand or two in special allowances. We had a case a few years ago where two Labour councillors felt they could not support collective responsibility and they did the honourable thing and resigned from the executive at some personal cost to themselves.

That is what I really wanted to say last week, but I thought it would be better to just stick to the barest facts, avoid the controversial aspects and leave a perfect opportunity to let the whole thing go… how naive of me. I should have just let off steam here in the first place.

And now I will just sit back and wait to see whether any of this generates an apology Mr Clay or just another official complaint about me from his cronies…

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • Richard

    I’m glad I didn’t say anything about the dirty knife (Monty Python)

  • Gordon Seekings

    I’m not going to get involved in the party politics on this but has Ben been a Councillor for 36 years?

    I think he first became a Councillor 36 years ago but that has not been continuous. He did initially 16 years as one of the Councillors for Northgate before being defeated by me. Four years later Ben re-stood and was once again beaten. The following year Ben became an Ifield Councillor and has been there ever since.

    By my reckoning that means it should actually read as being “a Councillor for 31 years having first been elected 36 years ago” (assuming we are taking it up to May this year).