Monday 29th November 2021,
North Yorks Enquirer

Letter: That Siddons Interview

Letter to the Editor: That Councillor Siddons Interview

Sir,

I am writing to chip in my two-penn’orth on the recent spate of articles in the NYE on the controversy over the Council’s management of Whitby and Scarborough Harbours.

I think that both Nigel Ward and Allan Roberts have done an excellent job of raising this vital local issue. In particular, I thought that Nigel Ward’s article “Whitby Harbour: Payback Time” was a corker. It covered the key issue very well and also contained arguably one of the worst television interviews with a senior local politician I have ever seen:

Councillor Steve Siddons

Commenting on the future NY Unitary Authority (a “dog’s dinner”)

This ranks as one of my favourite “worst interviews given by a politician”.

Some of the others are below and are all worth watching if you want a good laugh.

  • Priti Patel caught lying about her views on Capital Punishment, here.
  • Eric Pickles on Newsnight being ripped apart over his expenses, here.
  • Hazel Blears being humiliated over her abuse of the MPs’ expenses, here.
  • Diane Abbott praising communist mass murderer Mao Zedong, here.
  • Michael Howard evading questions from Jeremy Paxman, here.
  • US President Bill Clinton denying he had been shagging Monika Lewinski, here, followed by his admission that he had, here.
  • Gordon Brown caught inadvertently broadcasting himself calling Rochdale pensioner Gillian Duffy “a bigoted woman”, after she raised issues with him during an election campaign, here.
  • George Galloway denying he had praised mass murderer Saddam Hussein, when in fact he had, here.
  • Neil Kinnock’s first photo opportunity as Labour Party Leader, here.
  • SBC Legal & Democratic Services Department denying it was trying to close down the NYE’s predecessor Real Whitby – and being exposed as having lied on the BBC, here.

More seriously, this last example raises another serious issue in Scarborough political life.

By challenging the actions of the Council through legitimate public criticism and by encouraging debate, the NYE has contributed to public debate over the harbours issues. Perfectly illustrating the vital importance of having a strong vibrant local news outlet in North Yorkshire.

However, since 2011, first the Conservative administration and then the Labour led administration of Councillor Siddons have both tried to stifle the NYE and withhold information from it, to prevent legitimate, informed, criticism. The position of SBC under both Councillor Bastiman and Councillor Siddons over articles like this is that:

“the collective actions and behaviour of persons who contribute to the NYE website are causing and have caused nuisance and distress. You are an active member of the NYE, and as such are involved with those collective actions.”

In 2017, Councillor Randerson (supported by Councillor Jefferson) castigated the Council for intercepting Councillors’ emails, to prevent them from receiving emails from NYE journalists. He made his criticism in Full Council with his boss Councillor Siddons by his side, before walking out of the Chamber in disgust.

On the day he was elected Leader of Scarborough Borough Council, Councillor Siddons promised that his election would usher in “a new era of openness and transparency”. He then continued seamlessly with the policy of media suppression of the previous Conservative administration that he and Councillor Randerson had been so critical of when they were in opposition. A very clear case of blatant hypocrisy.

This prompted the photo0n below in the NYE, recommending Councillor Siddons for the Order of Lenin for his services to repression of a free press in Scarborough.

However, when I read Nigel Ward’s article on the covert purchase of The Shakespeare public house, SBC’s Secret Property Purchase Revealed, I realised that the NYE team had completely underestimated Councillor Siddons’ ability and the degree of repression that  he would impose:

  • Abandonment of the large portfolio organisation that Councils normally employ, in favour of concentrating decisions in the hands of the Council leader and a few trusted cronies.
  • Major expenditure being signed off by “Secret Leader’s Urgent Decision”.
  • Official SBC documents from the ‘Places & Futures’ Overview & Scrutiny Committee- which are required to be published in order to ensure openness so that the public are fully informed – being issued blank bearing only the word “Restricted”. Thus ensuring that information the public is entitled to know, about a property purchase involving tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds of their money, is withheld from them.
  • Councillors’emails being intercepted.
  • Security measures to ensure that no Councillor can pass documents to local journalists, so that they can inform the public of what their money is spent on.
  • These security measures are backed up by the unspoken threat of discovery leading to being dragged into the SBC equivalent of the Lubyanka (Monitoring Officer and Director of Legal Services, Mrs Lisa Dixon’s office), put up for a show trial in front of the Standards Committee, falsely accused of the criminal offence of Misconduct in Public Office and even being reported to the Scarborough Police (NYP), and/or being the subject of civil proceedings, or the threat thereof.

 This state of affairs has not previously been seen in any local government organisation in the history of this country. It is particularly incomprehensible that Councillor Siddons has been allowed to impose his will on the Council in this way, given that the Council is made up of 46 elected members and Councillor Siddons’ Labour Group only has 13 members.

The Labour Party did not state that this would be the way they would run the Council during the pre-election canvassing. They consequently have no mandate from the electorate to operate the Council in this way.

Given his lacklustre performance on the BBC, being interviewed over the new Unitary Authority, it appears to me that Councillor Siddons is uncomfortable with the media. If this is so, it may explain why Councillor Siddons has consistently tried to suppress a local media outlet that has consistently provided incisive criticism of his policies and leadership – in which case, his aggressive media policy is at least rational.

However, from the wider perspective, the way Councillor Siddons has repressed normal standards of openness in SBC is incompatible with his position as a Labour Party Councillor leading what is supposed to be a democratic, open and accountable Council.

Tim Hicks

[Address withheld]

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