It is time to stop, once and for all, the nonsense of local council’s ‘Standards Committees’

I have written before about the Standards system in local government, how undemocratic it is that a panel made up of opposition councillors and non-elected individuals can sit in judgement on elected councillors, even depriving the electorate of one of their representatives.

This is not a party political issue, and I have rallied to the defence of both Green councillor Jason Kitcat and the Matriarch of Hangleton and Knoll, Dawn Barnett.  Not just that, but future Tory Leader, Grant Shapps, tweeted in support of Jason!  Jason was accused of posting selected extracts of video from council meetings featuring Tory councillor Geoffrey Theobald.  It must be stated that the People’s Geoffrey did not support the actions taken by one of his fellow Conservatives.

The Matriarch, it has been reported, was referred to the Standards Committee for handing out leaflets directing travellers camped in her ward to open spaces in wards held by Green councillors.  While I do not like the tone of much of the anti-traveller debate, I thought that what the Matriarch did was imaginative touched with humour.  She made her point very well.  It was rumoured that it was a Green councillor who made that referral but I am yet to see any firm evidence to confirm this. I have previously written about Dawn’s “sheer cheek”.

Jason’s case was thrown out while Dawn’s has gone quiet (although I may have missed developments during my two month sabbatical in Italy over the summer.

The latest fiasco relates to Ben Duncan, the Green councillor for Queens Park, cabinet member for public protection and representative of Brighton and Hove City Council on the Sussex Police Authority.  An anonymous complaint was made against him about posts on his blog and for attending various demonstrations.  The investigation took over a year and found that he had done nothing wrong.  I have previously posted on Ben Duncan’s case.

Quoted in the Argus he said it was wrong for standards procedures to be used to complain about people’s opinions.  “It is an abuse of the system and a waste of public money. This must have cost thousands of pounds. The standards board should be used to tackle allegations of real wrongdoing. It is not just that there is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion on policing, you could say if you’re not doing that you’re not doing the job properly.”

The implication of this case, more so that the cases of Jason and The Matriarch, would have been more sinister had it been found that Ben had been in the wrong. It would mean that a councillor could not be involved in certain activities, in this case, anti-way activities.  It would have meant that only those with more conventional views would be allowed to serve on the Police Authority.  What would be the point of that? 

I recall a Conservative councillor once saying to me that he wished that Labour wouldn’t be so political on the Council, that the Conservatives were apolitical in local government!  I got it, you are only political if you disagreed with the status quo.  Thank goodness for The Boy David, his mate Boy George and Little Nick, standing up for the status quo, and doing it, if I may say so, very well indeed.

Reward councillors for their hard work and dedication

Earlier this week I reported on a comment attributed to Grant Shapps during his love-in with Jason Kitcat, a councillor of this Parish. Mr Shapps is said to have expressed the view that councillors should not be paid, and neither should Members of Parliament.

Linda asks if Jason Kitkat had actually asked Grant Shapps about extra funding for councillors to cover childcare.  She writes: “Being a councillor is not (or should not be) a full-time job, it’s voluntary, like being a magistrate etc.  I presume people shouldn’t volunteer to become councillors if they don’t have the spare time to fulfil the duties of their post.”

I agree with Clive’s sarcastic response to Linda: “Quite right. Only rich people who can afford childcare should be allowed to be councillors, what-what?”

In an area like Brighton and Hove, being a councillor is almost a full time job, not least if you are a Cabinet member of a leading opposition spokesperson. It raises the question: what sort of person do we want as our elected representatives? Do we just want people who are well off (ie. rich) to become councillors? Do we just want ‘professional’ activists – those who work for MPs (Bishop Brian, Momma Grizzly, etc.)?

Paul Perrin suggests asks “how about ensuring that candidates for the council have had a reasonably wide experience of normal life before the become councillors? There’s a thought!”

It is not easy being a candidate or councillor. Someone recently commented that it seems to be easier to progress as a political employee than someone with a non-political career. Several former Green councillors did not stand at the recent elections because they found being a Councillor was not compatible with progressing their careers.

Again, I agree with Clive: “It may not be the best time to suggest childcare allowances for councillors given the general picture. But, having read Jason Kitcat’s blog, it seems to me that the really extraordinary point is Grant Shapps’ suggestion that even MPs ought not to be paid, let alone councillors. How reactionary are some of these people! It’s like local Tory wire-puller Mike Holland, and his brilliant idea of reserving half the council’s seats for business people (and how on earth would you define that precisely?) Representative government ought to be what it says, and to that end some effort ought to be made – though perhaps not right now – to encourage more councillors with young families.  My impresssion is that there aren’t too many at the moment – perhaps if there had been more the city wouldn’t have reached crisis point over schools places?”

I think a fundamental reform is needed. Let’s reduce the number of councillors from 54 to, say, 24, and let’s pay them a decent wage commensurate with the responsibilities they carry. Give them proper admin support so that they can work full time on leading the city.

I have no sympathy with the view that it should be a voluntary endeavour. Give the Kitcats child care. Pay maternity and paternity leave. Make pension contributions. If I was a councillor, I would want to do it as a full time job, get properly rewarded for doing a good job. I wouldn’t want to end my term looking 84 rather than my actual 24…..

A final footnote on political love-ins. Paul Perrin, he of UKIP fame, asks whether it was a freudian slip when I referred to him as “Pal” Perrin’. He asks if I am going soft and reminded me that I said that I would rather stick pins in my eyes than vote UKIP. That remains the case, but I have grown rather fond of my pal Perrin in spite of his views. But, yes, Sweetie, I am going soft.

Praying for peace and harmony between Jason and Grant, and Dawn and the Travellers

What a love-in. Jason and Grant. A marriage made in heaven. Grant tweets support for Jason, and Jason writes in almost affection terms of Grant. Actually, I imagine that they would both say it would be a civil partnership created in hell. For today, the Cabinet Member for Finance and Central Services on Brighton and Hove City Council, Jason Kitcat, called in on the Minister for Housing and Local Government, Grant Shapps.

They chatted fondly of ‘Videogate’ when Jason was hauled through the Standards Committee for posting extracts from a council meeting on You Tube. Grant recalled Tweeting a message of support.

Not all the meeting went according to plan. Grant declined to make more money available to Brighton and Hove, as well as letting on that he felt councillors and MP’s should not be paid anything! There is a short report on Jason’s visit to the Department for Communities & Local Government on his blog.

Perhaps Jason would have been more successful had he heeded the advice from Pal Perrin and attended prayers before Council meetings. Paul writes: “I think a moment of contemplation, reflection (or ‘prayers’) before meetings should be compulsory. An opportunity for our representatives to remind themselves that they are servants not leaders (whether or not they are religious) – if they want to lead they need to persuade the public and then follow them!” If it is of any comfort to Bill Randall, I pray for him every night! I am sure he will gain strength for that.

For good measure, Paul, who is on a one man crusade to hold the Green administration to account, asks: “So how is this absurd meat free mondays thing going?”. The other day I chanced upon the Greens answer to Delia Smith, councillor Amy Kennedy, but no mention was made of meat free Mondays. In the best tradition of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I have become vegetarian on Mondays. I only cook Lamb.

There has been. Some comment on Dawn Barnett and her intervention on travellers. You will recall that Dawn visited a travellers camp in her ward and gave them written directions to Green wards. Zombie writes: “I am surpised Dawn Barnett has been allowed to get away with all she has done, relatively unchallenged. She has incited tresspass elesewhere in Brighton. She has tried to straightjacket councillors into attending prayers on a like it or not basis (most Lab councillors didn’t attend prayers in the 70s with no fuss made).” I think I should start praying for Zombie, as well.

Zombie continues: “Some Labour councillor (Brian Fitch where are you?) could have stood up for local residents less stridently and in a less inflamatory way.Someone could have stood up for freedom of expression and thought. Labour has been inept and cowardly and has allowed Dawn Barnett and Tories like Mike Weatherly and Geoffrey Theobald to do all the running in making political hay, while the Greens pile on error after error. The Greens will learn or be overwhelmed. Labour will deserve to disappear from political life in B & H if it cannot speak a lot louder than it has been of late.”

While disagreeing with what Dawn Barnett did, I do admire the sheer cheek of what she has done, and other councillors could be well advised to show some imagination in their campaigning.

Jason Kitcat – total vindication as he is cleared in Council witchhunt

“A victory for openness and democracy” claimed Green councillor Jason Kitcat as the case against him was thrown out by a Tribunal set up to hear the case.  Brighton and Hove City Council is said to have spend “thousands” bringing the case, at a time when they are planning millions of Pounds of cuts.

Those councillors who made the initial allegation against Jason (that would be Tory councillor Ted Kemble, supported by Council Leader Mary Mears and Deputy Leader Brian Oxley) and those who sat on the panel (Labour councillor Jeane Lepper and Lib Dem councillor David Watkins) should hang their heads in shame.

Better still, their involvement in this shameful episode, should be made an electoral issue next May.

Not only is there wide support for Jason Kitcat, condemnation of the action taken against him, not least the squandering of public funds for what some may feel has been party political ends, has come from Tory government ministers Eric Pickles and Grant Shapps.

So a great result for Jason Kitcat and for democracy.  Councillors should not have undemocratic power to deny political representation to voters, particularly when that representation is provided by those councillors’ political opponents.

So, is the end of the affair.  I hope not.  There must be full disclosure regarding the waste of public funds.  I would also suggest those who took action against Jason Kitcat should consider their suitability to hold specific office within the Council.

Let’s hear it for Jason Kitcat – the victim of a Labour, Lib Dem and Tory stitch-up

Anybody who takes a close interest in the politics within Brighton and Hove City Council (and we are few and far between) will continue to be appalled at the treatment of Cllr Jason Kitcat. He is facing a six month ban from public office unless he apologises for not showing Cllr Geoffrey Theobald “respect”.

His crime? Posting extracts from a Council meeting on You Tube and on his blog when giving Cllr Theobald a hard time over communal bins.  I kid you not.

A complaint was lodged by Tory Cllr Ted Kemble to the Council’s Standard’s Committee.  The Panel which heard the complaint was made up of an independent chair, and Labour councillor Jeane Lepper and Lib Dem councillor David Watkins.  Cllr Kitcat was found guilty and was asked to apologise to Cllr Theobald.  It is not clear whether both councillors voted against Cllr Kitcat.  If they did they should be ashamed of themselves.  In a democracy, the only people who should be able to prevent an elected councillor from representing his constituents are his or her constituents themselves, through the ballot box.

Geoffrey Theobald, to his credit, isn’t in the slightest bit fussed by any of this.  He has been around long enough and has been called worse (probably by me at some point!).

And Jason Kitcat is getting support from some unlikely quarters, not least from the Tory Local Government Minister, Grant Shapps.  You can read a full account of the whole sorry saga on Jason Kitcat’s blog.

Perhaps an appropriate outcome would be defeat at the polls next May for Cllr Kemble and a massive scare for Cllr Lepper (she is too popular in her ward and works too hard for her to lose her seat – and I personally wouldn’t want her to).  As for Cllr Watkins, if he stands again, he should in any case get beaten on the anti-Lib Dem backlash.

And what about Cllr Kitcat.  If he is suspended, there should be such a huge vote next May to re-elect him in Regency Ward.  Ordinary voters don’t like people being victimised, and Jason Kitcat is one of the hardest working councillors in my memory, one of the truly exceptional local ward councillors of our time.