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Council secrecy in Crawley

September 3rd, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 11 Comments · Politics

One of the local papers this week has a story that is not only interesting, but even displays an element of investigative journalism and even a surprise.    It would have been more impressive if it had been published six weeks ago when the council meeting and vote that it relates to actually occurred – I suspect it has surfaced now thanks to some agitating by a well-known local agitator because nobody said anything about it at the time AFAIK.The story is about the borough council’s decision to not put its register of members’ interests online.  Plenty of other councils do, notably the county council.  The question is if it is good enough for West Sussex then why not Crawley?

I really can’t see what the problem is.  Ironically the register of interests is one of the least interesting documents around, certainly my own entry in it was extremely uninteresting.  Anybody who looks through it will soon decide it is dull and tedious, but make it ‘secret’ and it looks like there is something to hide.  OK it is not secret – you can make an appointment to view it.  For those of us with jobs and a life it might as well be secret because it is hugely inconvenient to go and view it. It reminds me of the bit in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy where the council say the demolition plans had been on public display.

The reason given for not making the register of interests more easily available is that “it could be used by criminal and malicious elements”.  Well guess what?   It still can.  A criminal would just have to lie.

The irony is that the person giving all the quotes to the Crawley News to defend the decision is Duncan Crow.  As he is a county councillor as well, all his information is presumably available online at the WSCC website. That seems to have slipped Labour leader Brenda Smith’s mind when she says “I believe in openness and transparency and would have no problem having my declarations of interests on the web”.  They already are as she is also a county councillor.

Crow says that “It’s not about trying to hide anything”.  While that may be true the council is acting like it has something to hide and if you do that then some people will decide that is the case, especially with all the recent publications of information about MPs.  I would have thought it was the councillors’ own interest to make such information as public as possible. Apart from anything else, there must be at least a third of the borough council who are also county councillors so their details are already out there.

The killer quote is “I would question why people have an interest in seeing this information online. What would be the motivation for viewing it?”  After all the focus on greater transparency in public life that the MP expenses scandal stirred up they still don’t get it do they?

I really cannot see any sensible objection to having the council’s register of interests online at all.  In fact, if anybody wants to send me a copy of the contents I will happily publish them online myself!   Really. But only the complete set – not just cherry-picking whatever juicy bits there may be.   And the same goes for Horsham council too.  Either they do not publish their register of interests or they have it tucked away in such an obscure corner of their website that I can’t find it.

I do wonder about one thing though.  If Councillor Crow is so firmly of the opinion that publishing members’ interests online is a bad thing and potentially dangerous, has he made any attempt to stop the county publishing its register?  I don’t know when the county decided to start putting it online, but if he was already a member at that time, did he vote against it?

For an example of how boring the register of interest is look at Duncan Crow’s own entry in the county council register.   It is even more boring than my entry was when I was a councillor – at least I had a job to list on it.  Or is that the sort of malicious comment they are talking about?

I mentioned a surprise in the first paragraph.  The surprise was that two members of the council have declared on the register that they are freemasons.   I really thought that nobody under 60 would bother joining that bunch of weirdos.  The well-known local agitator referred to above has often voiced his opinions about masons in the council and I thought it was too far-fetched.  Call me cynical, but why would anybody do that?

Do they think to themselves: I would like to do something charitable, shall I make out a standing order to Oxfam?  Volunteer at a local charity?  Or shall I join a quasi-religious, semi-secret society, bound by arcane rituals, and with a reputation for casting a malign corrupting influence over the legal system, the police, and other public bodies?  Surely it is not the first choice for anybody who’s only motivation is good works, and yet that is the only aspect that masons ever mention.

I believe you have to be invited to join.  Is the initial approach one where a mason takes you to one side and asks if you want to be involved in a charitable organisation with no personal benefit whatsoever like some sort of  up-market chugger?  Doesn’t seem likely does it?  I will remain deeply suspicious of the organisation. Apart from anything else you apparently have to profess a belief in a supreme being which is odd enough in itself.

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11 Comments so far ↓

  • Richard

    I have absolutely no idea who might be the “local agitator” you’re talking about, Skuds.

    The only one who might be called that – who I am very close to – would call hiimself someone who tries to “wake up people to certain political realities”.

    I’ve always found him to be a very nice chap;)

  • Skuds

    Oh yeah – sorry. Thought it had all your hallmarks, but apparently it wasn’t you.

  • skud's sister

    Just checked Bradford’s website and there seems to be nothing on there either. And I would very much like to know what interests my local councillors give…. As well as the councillors who voted for the Tesco supermarket to be built in the village…

  • Skuds

    Ah. There is a good chance that the votes are not recorded anyway. In our council they only record the number of votes cast and not who voted which way – unless one of the councillors calls for a recorded vote.

    As far as I know any public who are there can’t call for a recorded vote – but if they did I would be surprised if at least one councillor didn’t oblige them.

    The thing is that there are many things that could potentially way a councillor that would not be recorded (like if their parents house is affected by a decision) although they would be expected to declare them at the meeting itself.

    I’m surprised there is such a fuss about all this. There was a lot of resistance to declaring interests amongst parish councillors when that became law, but district councillors have always had to do it and it has always been public.

  • Danivon

    Did you see that Crow has picked up on your ‘weirdo’ line? He’s done a whole post on it.

    Can’t understand why he’s totally ignored the substance of your post, though. Anyone would think he’s got a bit of a brass neck really.

    • Skuds

      I had heard, but couldn’t read it: I was overcome by the odour of sanctimony and retreated into nausea.

      I was never happy with that word actually. You know how sometimes you just can’t summon up exactly the word you want and have to use a near-synonym instead? I was having one of those blind spot moments… the word I was groping for was ‘cranks’.

      As you point out, that was just a postscript, a sideshow, an appendix even, and the real point is why the council should want to not make available online something which can be very easily put online, to the detriment of the housebound, people with jobs and the lazy.

      The Crawley News website comments go the same way, getting distracted by freemasons and losing sight of the real point.

      My offer still stands. If anybody wants to furnish me with the complete register I will happily put it online for the council. And I would still be interested if any local politics anorak knows when WSCC started putting their register online and whether the same arguments were put then.

      I still firmly believe that there is nothing on there to hide – which makes their behaviour all the more bizarre. At a time when public distrust of politicians is at a bit of a peak, why go out of your way to act shifty?

      • Danivon

        Oh, you should read to the end. Apparently, you are using the Horsham candidacy as a springboard to launch a bid to replace Laura Moffatt for the 2014/15 elections. You should be warned, however, because Rob Hull is going to be up against you 🙂

        Apparently, people who indulge in uninformed speculation about the motives of local politicians are obsessive and hate-filled conspiracy theorists, but Duncan can only dish that one out.

        • Skuds

          So the secret is out eh? 😉

          I’m not even sure which elementary error is being made there. It could be the error of assuming that everybody else has the same motivations as you do, in which case it speaks volumes of his own ambitions.

          Or it could be the error of assuming that everybody always says whatever they calculate will suit their master plan and not realising that some of us just like to say what they think.

          There is the even larger error of thinking that I do not know how the Labour party works. I *know* what my chances would be of getting selected for a winnable seat, even if I wanted to.

          Is it really so incredible that I would stand in an unwinnable seat as a matter of principle and not just to ‘pay my dues’ on the way to bigger things?

  • Richard

    My own theory – for what it’s worth – is that Deputy Leader Duncan Crow is NOT a Freemason – but rather a “Wannabe Mason”.

    Methinks, in his immature naivete, he was trying to “protect” (& impress?) those Freemasons – eg Dewdney, Gilroy & Walker – who have registered their masonic affiliation in the Register of Interests – as required by law.

    If that theory has substance, then Cllr Crow is a ####….and has succeeeded in publicly exposing the Masons (which they do not like)…and makes this Tory Deputy Leader “Stalinesque”.

  • Richard

    I might be wasting my time saying this – and maybe many people here areb’t interested or bothered but I don’t have a problem with Freemasons ~ up to 3rd Degree level (Master Mason).

    But, I do have a problem with Masons from the 4th Degree upwards to 33 Degrees…Royal Arch Lodges apparently.

    There are 2 Royal Arch Lodges in Crawley (at the Ifield Masonic Temple (sorry, Hall)

  • Richard

    Cllr Duncan Crowspeak (“Crawley tops the secrecy league/A question of loyalty/Editor’s Comment”, Crawley News, Sept 9 2009)

    “This is very old news…There is no need for me to comment further”