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Told you so

July 22nd, 2007 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 19 Comments · Politics

In May we fought the election in Furnace Green ward with two main points. I’ll admit that ‘fought’ might be a bit of a strong word as we didn’t really do much there: knowing that it was unlikely to be a gain for us we only gave it a little time and only produced one piece of literature besides the election addresses.

But as we were only doing the one piece of literature we decided to just say what we thought and it turned out to be the most controversial leaflet in the town, leading to a bit of a row in the pages of the local papers and the Labour leader calling the Tory leader a wimp. Which was fun.

The topic which caused the controversy was our suggestion that a Tory council would lead to cuts in services, with at least one of the town’s major public assets sold off or transferred to a trust, the major public assets being the stadium, the Hawth theatre, Tilgate Park, the rare breeds farm and the golf course.

At the time this was called scaremongering. As it happens we were, and still are worried that this could be a possibility having looked at the booklet which came with the annual council tax bill showing large reductions in the overall budget, mostly coming from the Leisure part of the budget.

An argument I didn’t make at the time, because it never even occurred to me, was one which was pointed out in a letter to the Observer after the elections pointing out that all the things we said were only things which the Tories threatened were likely if the council houses were not sold off – since the housing stock transfer fell through then these things were likely to happen… unless all those claims in the councils bullying letters to tenants were just scaremongering.

In other words our election material was only scaremongering if the council’s housing campaign was. Well since we have now found out that the claims in those council letters, brochures and DVDs were exaggerated maybe it will turn out that everything is safe after all. I wouldn’t bet on it, but its a bit too early to be in a position to say “told you so” just yet.

Ironically the “told you so” moment comes with the second main topic of our election leaflet, which was really just a bit of rhetorical mischief, but turns out to have some substance.

What we said was that Furnace Green had an unfortunate track record with its councillors. First of all they had one who spent the last 6 months of her term working on an oil rig in Africa or something like that. Her replacement was someone who, as far as we can make out, never lived in the town but continued to live in Brighton, and lost most of his interest in Crawley once he failed to get selected as parliamentary candidate here – then lost all interest when he got selected in Brighton.

In the first instance it was just one of those things. It can happen that you get a transfer or an opportunity which means moving away. Unfortunate but unavoidable. Following that up with another absentee councillor is just careless. Our slightly provocative stance was that neither Thakordas Patel nor I were likely to be be going anywhere and would therefore be available to concentrate on representing Furnace Green – but really this was based on the track record in Furnace Green and not this year’s candidate.

As far as we could make out the candidate was a local person, pillar of the community, regular fixture at the local church and everything so we didn’t push that too hard. it seemd unlikely that lightning could strike the same place three times in a row.

But what we didn’t know at the time, and you can be sure we would have mentioned it if we had, is that the Tory candidate, Carol Eade, was already a district councillor in Adur and vice chair on a couple of committees down there. This is a fact which I only found out very recently.

So it turns out that Furnace Green elected another councillor who has responsibilities elsewhere, and not only that but potential conflicts of interest. She did not resign her seat in Adur and continues to serve on both councils, drawing two sets of allowances, but is surely unable to carry out both jobs properly.

But surely we have plenty of examples of councillors who sit on both the borough council and the county council, so why is this any different? Actually I am not in favour of that either, but its quite common practice and quite different. For a start those councillors normally represent the same area but at different levels. The county council meetings are during the day and the borough meetings are in the evenings so it is possible to go to all relevant meetings and when you are in your ward you are there representing all the people who voted for you at different elections.

That is not the case with Cllr Eade. Adur council meets in the evenings so there can be clashes with the Crawley meetings, and whichever place you are in you can only be representing one of your sets of voters.

I can remember when I was a councillor in Crawley. There were weeks when I had meetings four nights of the week. So much of my time was occupied with matters relating to Crawley or specifically to Broadfield that I know I could not have managed the time to also serve on another council 40km away with meetings at the same time.

From looking at the two councils’ web sites, it appears that Cllr Eade serves on the bare minimum of committees so the chances of a clash in meetings she serves on is a lot less likely, but this is far from ideal. Firstly it means she is not doing a full job on either council, and increasing the workload for all her colleagues slightly, but serving on committees is only part of the job. Quite often you will want to attend committees you don’t serve on so you can keep abreast of everything. If there is a Crawley council committee meeting on a topic which affects your ward on the same evening of the Adur full council meeting you can’t do both can you? And remember that official council meetings are only a part of the workload – there are group meetings in both places, training sessions, workshops and then there are residents and tenants meetings and other things which don’t appear on the official diary.

(Talking of which – I would have done some research to see if Cllr Eade has any obvious diary clashes but I fell at the first hurdle when I failed to find the list of council committee meetings on the Crawley web site. Another example of how crap it is. Adur have a lovely full-year calendar on theirs, linked to from all sorts of places and not so much easy to find as hard to miss.)

On top of all those obligations, councils place their members on outside bodies to represent the council’s interests, and those bodies all have meetings to attend. As it happens Eade is on very few of them either – another example of her being given deliberately light workloads at both councils. I can only imagine that the Tory groups on both councils are complicit in fixing it this way to facilitate being on both authorities. Either that or Cllr Eade is not very competent so they try to minimise the chances of her being able to cock anything up. Perhaps they could tell us which it is?

So it looks like Furnace Green did manage to elect another councillor who is unable to dedicate their whole time and attention to Crawley, when they had a choice of two Labour candidates who would have been here full time. Told you so!

It may be that Cllr Eade is actually serving Crawley fully – in which case she is short-changing Adur. I wonder if the constituents of Eastbrook ward know that their councillor moved to Crawley last June, and now serves on Crawley council?

There is another aspect to this: is there a conflict of interests in being on two district councils within the same county? On the register of members’ interests in Crawley Cllr Eade has listed her membership of Adur council under section 2.2 (member or hold a position of general control or management of a public authority or body exercising functions of a public nature) so at least that interest is registered. However there is no such corresponding entry in the Adur register of interests.

That is interesting, but more to the point is probably illegal. I have been out of the loop for a while, but my understanding is that any changes in circumstance have to be recorded on the register within 28 days. It is more than 28 days since the elections in Crawley, but the last change to the register in Adur was a change of address notification in June 2006. As far as I can see that puts Cllr Eade in a position of failing to comply with the code of conduct for council members.

Of course, as I live in Crawley I am not too bothered about what goes on in Adur, but I shall be mentioning this to my party colleagues down there, and they may want to make something of it.

There other small inconsistencies in the two registers of members’ interests but I think they are trivial. For example, the Adur register lists membership of something called the Conservative Councillors Association as a “body whose principal purposes include the influence of public opinion or policy” but the Crawley register contains no reference to that body. In the equivalent section it just lists membership of the Conservative Party – although I thought the normal practice would be to list membership of the “Horsham and Crawley Conservative Association”. But that is the sort of thing which is a bit of a grey area – you never know whether you need to declare it or not. The safest course is to list anything which might matter just in case.

I suspect that missing off the Conservative Councillors Association is an honest mistake of omission, but I can’t say the same of this May’s election material. If you are asking people to vote for you to be a councillor and you have several years experience of being a councillor, that is the sort of thing you would put in an election address on the basis that even more people will consider you the right choice if they know you have relevant experience. As far as I can remember, there was no mention of being or having been an Adur councillor.

The only reason I can think of for that is that the Tories did not want us to know, so the information was withheld. If we had known we would have pointed out the conflicts of interest and potential conflicts of time, and the Tories knew we would have done that so they counted on us not being aware of the identities of every councillor in small authorities down on the coast. And it worked.

So we not only have a part-time councillor, but one who is probably in breach of some or other code of conduct in Adur and who stood under false pretenses. Nice.

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19 Comments so far ↓

  • Ash

    Surely this story only shows how inept the Labour Party in Crawley are? – if they cannot beat a party that puts up such unsuitable candidates then its hardly surprising that they lost control of the council.

    Seems that the Labour Party should be looking inward at it’s policies and candiates in future and worrying less about who other parties get to stand.

  • Richard

    Ouch !

  • Danivon

    Ash – if you read the piece, you will see why Labour did not fight so hard in Furnace Green (it is solid Tory for now) and that we did not know the full truth about Carol Eade at the time. Not inept, but bounded by the constraints of reality.

    >Seems that the Labour Party should be looking inward at it’s policies and candiates in future and worrying less about who other parties get to stand.

    Yeah, because navel gazing is always a viable political strategy.

    The thing is that the results reflect national opinion. The trends are similar to those around the country, and the reason that we have lost so much recently is that Crawley was doing far better for Labour a few years ago than expected on national trends. Local policy was not too relevent (otherwise we’d expect to have seen a tenants revolt against the Tories).

  • Ash

    Danivon – I did read the piece, and i still say that if Labour cannot beat an outfit who put up candidates who dissappear for 6 months on an oil rig then that surely says more about the Labour party in Crawley than anything else?

  • Danivon

    Who votes for these people then? Are the electorate not in some way part of the picture? Are they so intent on burning Tony Blair that they will take any rubbish?

  • Richard

    70% in Crawley did not vote at all – and I would guess a large percentage of that figure would have voted Labour – if they had bothered to get off their arses for half-an-hour instead of watching Sky.

    Labour lost these potential voters because of New Labour and the Iraq War, and also because they sensed there was no longer any real difference between the two main parties – so what’s the point in voting.

    Those 70% have a point.

    The “rubbish” got in because the local Labour Party didn’t have the bottle to stand up to the moral bankruptcy of Blair’s pro-US New labour.

  • Danivon

    Well, perhaps we will find out what the difference really is. We had a taste with the Council Housing. Next up is Play areas, a review of allotments, job cuts and who knows what else.

    I understand that people don’t like Iraq. I don’t. But it’s a but self-indulgent to keep harping on about it after all this time – when there’s not much we can do about it and (as everyone seems to forget) it was actually popular at the time. People had the information that they needed, they were not ‘deceived’.

  • Ash

    danivon – you may well be correct that the other parties candidates are ‘rubbish’ – but surely the reason these ‘rubbish’ candidates beat the ones Labour put forward cannot be just put down to an ignorant electorate – the Labour party surely have to shoulder most of the blame for putting up candidates with policies that people dont want to vote for.

  • Danivon

    Ash. Maybe so, but not the entire blame for the electoral outcome. Otherwise we should surely place more blame on the Lib Dems who can only win in one part of Crawley, or on other parties who can’t win any elections at all locally.

    I don’t see the electorate as ignorant. Apathetic, perhaps, and frustrated certainly. Confused is a real possibility (after all, if ‘Iraq’ is why people don’t vote Labour, why don’t people remember that the Tories were even more in favour of the war in Parliament?).

  • Ash

    I don’t that trying to shift responsibility for the war to the Tories is a tactic that is really going to succeed – The Labour Party were the government at the time and it is the government who decides whether we choose to start wars with other countries – not the opposition.

    As for the Lib-Dems – the reason they are not successful is that they don’t put forward policies that people want to vote for – its s pretty simple system.

  • Danivon

    No, the Lib Dems do put forward popular policies, but most people realise that they are not going to win, so it matters less.

    As for Iraq, the vote was an open one at the time, and more Labour MPs voted against the War than Tory MPs did. If the opposition had opposed the government, then it may well have been defeated at the time.

    Mind you, if Jacques Chirac hadn’t played silly beggers, things might have been totally different.

  • Richard

    The “silly beggers” which Jacques Chirac played concerning the US & Iraq, were much the same as the “silly beggers” which Harold Wilson played concerning the US & Vietnam.

    I personally salute them both…

  • Danivon

    No. Wilson merely declined to help in Vietnam. Chirac said that whatever was said he’d veto action at the UN level, before all the evidence was in. As a result, the US were able to claim that the UN was irrelevant.

  • Richard

    Chirac ‘saw through’ Bush straightaway – Blair did not…Chirac didn’t need “evidence” (of which there was none anyway)…probably something to do with the fact that Chirac’s country has been invaded and occupied – Blair’s country has not…yet.

    Your attempt at revisionist history, Owen, is…interesting.

  • Danivon

    Richard, remember that I was opposed to our entry into the war. Chirac may have thought he was helping, but his obstinacy was counter-productive. It certainly didn’t make it easier to stop Bush push for invasion without evidence (in scare quotes or not).

    In fact, the evidence would have helped, if the IAEA and UN weapons mission had reported back accurately, the WMD case would have been undermined.

  • Richard

    The bunch of mafia-styled US gangsters, headed by Bush, would have invaded and occupied Iraq ‘come hell or high water’…whatever Blair, Chirac, UN or anybody else said or did.

    France, headed by Chirac, had the moral courage to stand up to the US regime – something sadly lacking in Blair. Spain also did the same later – for different reasons.

    Setting up Chirac as a ‘bete noire’, Owen, is naive…and seriously wrong.

  • Danivon

    Yeah right, and France’s attitude had nothing to do with their own financial interests in Iraq.

    If you are so cynical about the major world players, why are you so selective about them?

  • Richard

    I am more than aware of the French hypocrisy in all this – well beyond hypocrisy in fact – and they are also a “major world player”, especially when it comes to selling arms.

    But, as I see it, the French hypocrisy (& beyond) doesn’t come anywhere near that of the US and the UK.

    To me, Owen, it seems you have a rather ‘blinkered’ view of the French regime, which blinds you to the utter criminality of the US and UK regimes.

  • Skuds

    Going back to the original comment (because I was away at the time, and the whole Iraq war debate here is getting away from the point, and as I work for a French defence company I prefer not to comment on that side of things)

    I wouldn’t say the party in Crawley is inept. It surely has some inept members, as do all the parties. Complacent describes the party better, though I would hope that recent thrashings would have knocked that out of us.

    It looks like the Tories are now getting a bit complacent though, if they feel they can put up any old candidate, even a total religious maniac, and still win.

    As for the councillor who disappeared for 6 months – at least she had the decency to not claim an allowance for that time.