SBC: The Empire Strikes Backfire!
- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, offering a preliminary report on the smear campaign against Councillors who proposed a Vote of No Confidence in Scarborough Mayor, the ever-popular Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.].
My thanks to the astute denizen of the Twittersphere who drew my attention to another classic Tory shot-in-the-foot . . . a dead giveaway betrayed by the entirely typical pettiness which pervades Scarborough & Whitby Conservative Association’s elected Councillors.
In the rush to defend the indefensible – the gutless evasion by SBC Mayor Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.] of his duty to process not one but two Requisitions for Extraordinary Meetings – the usual suspects have resorted to a campaign of paltry slurs against Opposition members who have exercised their rights under the Local Government Act 1972 to set their signatures to these Requisitions in order to have their concerns aired before all members, in the public arena of the Council Chamber.
Confining this present report to just two of the Tory-inspired smears (there will be more to follow), I refer to Tim HICK’s Open Letter to the Leader of 20th November 2018, in which he reproduced, with appropriate redaction (to protect personal data of relevant third parties), the following email from SBC Director of Legal & Democratic Services and Monitoring Officer Mrs Lisa DIXON, thus:
FROM: Lisa Dixon <Lisa.Dixon@scarborough.gov.uk>
DATE: 2 October 2018 at 14:36:39 BST
SUBJECT: PERSISTENT AND UNREASONABLE COMPLAINANTS – CONFIDENTIAL
Please note the following decisions made in accordance with the Council’s Persistent and
Unreasonably Persistent Complainants Policy.
Mr A, be designated as a persistent complainant
The following continued to be designated as persistent complainants:
That the following be de-designated:
Scarborough Borough Council
Clearly, Tim HICKS is at liberty to disclose his own name (and having done so, has freed me to do so, too), but all others have been appropriately redacted. Thus, there has been no breach of the Data Protection Act 1998, or GDPR.
It is apparently the case that, following a complaint from the Leader Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.], Mrs DIXON instigated an investigation into how Tim HICKS could have laid hands on a copy of this confidential document.
As is widely reported, SBC is in the habit of unlawfully intercepting Councillors’ emails. Thus, it was a simple exercise for Mrs DIXON to establish which Councillors had forwarded the email, either to a third party (or parties) or to their own private email clients (into which the Council has no legal means to spy), whence it may have been further forwarded to interested third parties – like the Enquirer, for example. Or the Private Eye.
What Mrs DIXON does not know is how many Councillors have shared the email with third parties – or, indeed, whether or not the names of “unreasonably persistent complainants” were first redacted.
In other words, what Mrs DIXON does not know is whether or not any data breach has actually taken place.
This is a position of terminal ignorance, given that there are many ways in which documents can (and are) shared by Councillors (and Officers) that are even more impenetrable to Mrs DIXON, for example:
1) Highlighting and copying the entire textual body of an incoming SBC email onto a clipboard, then pasting it in its entirety into a fresh email sending it to the intended recipient (e.g. the Enquirer, or the Private Eye). Be it noted that this method permits redaction of personal data before transmission.
2) Using a smart-phone (or digital camera) to photograph the email as it appears on Councillors’ i-Pads, then sending the photo as an attachment via a fresh email from the Councillor’s private email client (or via social media private message). Be it noted that this method also permits redaction of personal data by editing the image in a program like Adobe Photoshop.
I could, of course, go on – but let us not get too technical. The examples suffice to demonstrate that SBC simply has no mechanism prevent the disclosure, in the public interest, of information which it would prefer to keep secret from members and/or electors – and scant chance of identifying the original source of the ‘leak’.
Further, and as I have shown before, the only mechanism available to SBC to pursue the Leader’s complaint is via the Council’s Standards Committee, which, under the terms of the Localism Act 2011 and/or the GDPR, must respect a defence of the Councillor having acted in the public interest. SBC may struggle to convince anyone that the public interest is best served by the Council unlawfully intercepting emails between Councillors and (allegedly) “unreasonably persistent complainants” or that it is in the public interest to keep this unlawful practice ‘confidential’.
In other words, the Councillor (or Councillors) who allegedly ‘leaked’ Mrs DIXON’s email have not been reported with a view to any useful outcome – rather, as a cheap trick to smear one of the signatories to both Requisitions. It is both shocking and unsurprising to encounter another incidence of Officers evincing political partiality in favour of the incumbent Tories – reminiscent, perhaps, of that allegedly non-existent covenant on The Futurist, or the out-of-thin-air ‘Dispensations’ allowing the Leader and his spouse and the Cabinet to vote on the No Confidence motion against them.
As it happens, a Councillor who presently sits in Mr DIXON’s cross-hairs, is one of the signatories to both the first Requisition (calling for an Extraordinary Meeting to achieve a full explanation and debate on the legality of Chief Executive’s actions in banning Councillor Michelle DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF [Ind.Ind.] from carrying out her full electoral duties), and the second Requisition, calling for an Extraordinary Meeting to debate and vote on a Motion of No Confidence in the present Mayor (that man PLANT, again).
Moving on, now, to a second example of pure snide, I draw readers’ attention to the following Twitter thread:
I was particularly amused by that final paragraph from ‘John BLAGDEN’ (who enjoys the attention of ONE Twitter Follower – so how did these ‘senior’ Tory Councillors pick up so quickly on that primary Tweet?):
- “If they don’t if they don’t write about these Tweets they could be potentially be accused of being politically biased. We wouldn’t want that”.
I cannot speak for other Enquirer contributors (seven of whom are Councillors), but I can say this:
I will work with any elected member or future candidate who has the courtesy to engage with me and who satisfies me that her/his commitment to transparency and accountability goes beyond blind loyalty to party demands (irrespective of which party). The rest can kiss my ass.
And, by the way, this applies not only in the Borough of Scarborough (where the Tories have revelled in their stranglehold over the Council’s direction for far too long) but in other Councils, where other parties hold sway.
Incidentally, if there is any truth in the allegation that Councillor RANDERSON has been reported to Standards, then this would confirm that the Council has once again failed in its duty to inform the Councillor complained against immediately). It is always ironically amusing when one tosser drops another in the mire.
Examining that Twitter thread from ‘John Blagden’ (his Twitter tag, appropriately, is @blatantly_fake) more closely, we find some compelling clues to the identity of ‘John Blagden’ (not his real name, apparently).
Of course, any or every one of the above could be blatantly fake accounts.
Taking them at face value:
First up, Councillor David CHANCE [Con.] – our Freemason friend who cannot always get his facts straight.
Second, Councillor Heather PHILLIP(S) [Con.] – who seems to have run out of character(s). A former Chair of Standards, Heather knows all about non-declaration of interests. This is the lady who is so mortally afraid of Councillor DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF [Ind.Ind.] that she stalks around the various Hertford ward Parishes provoking close encounters.
Third, Councillor Phil TRUMPER [Con.] – remembered largely for his (you got it) offensive Tweets – which would explain why he “does not endorse any retweets”. (They do run true to form, don’t they?). And Phil is the Tory yes-man who actually voted the wrong way! Duh!
Fourth, and finally, the Mayor himself, Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.] – a veteran of the outrageous “Me Too!” Voucher scandal, Joe is a man who readily threatens legal action – without ever following through.
Judging by the ‘tags’, this primary Tweet and its re-Tweets attacking Councillor RANDERSON are obviously intended to encourage news outlets to discredit a Councillor just as he and his cross-party colleagues challenge Mayor PLANT and his Conservative Group’s suspected complicity in the illegal and apparently politically motivated exclusion of Councillor Michelle DONOHUE-MONCRIEFF [Ind.Ind.].
Even if not the author of the ‘John BLAGDEN’ Tweets, Mayor PLANT has clearly abandoned the Mayoral role’s essential political neutrality in order to engage in the endorsement of a cheap political ‘tit-for-tat’ attack on Councillor RANDERSON. This very act alone fully justifies the No Confidence action. It also falls foul of 5.1 B 1 and 2(i) and 2(iv) of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct:
1. You must treat others with respect;
2. You must not:
(ii). bully, intimidate or be abusive to, or attempt to bully, intimidate or beabusive to, any person;
(iv). do anything which compromises or is likely to compromise the impartiality of those who work for, or on behalf of, the Council
It would be heartening to see a Conservative Councillor evincing the integrity to bring a Standards Complaint against Mayor Joe PLANT and his fellow re-Tweeters – in accordance with the Seventh Nolan Principle of Public Life:
Holders of public office should exhibit these principles in their own behaviour. They should actively promote and robustly support the principles and be willing to challenge poor behaviour wherever it occurs.
Go on – surprise me, you sorry lot.
Will the real ‘John BLAGDEN’ please stand up?
Three of the four re-Tweeters are SBC Conservative Councillors sitting in Whitby wards (Councillors CHANCE, TRUMPER and Mayor PLANT). The Whitby wards (Mulgrave, Mayfield, West Cliff and Streonshalh) together account for eight Councillors, of which six are Conservatives.
Conspicuous by her absence from the above list of re-Tweeters is Councillor Sandra TURNER [Con.] (Streonshalh) who, in my humble opinion, is incapable of such pusillaminous conduct. I would stake the Mayor’s life on that.
Councillor Marion WATSON [Con.] (Mulgrave) has made no discernible contribution since her victory in the Mulgrave by-election of 29th August 2017 and does not seem a credible suspect.
Also conspicuous by his absence from the re-Tweeting roster is Councillor John NOCK [Con.] (Mulgrave), the man who made those deplorable excuses for Scarborough’s former Mayor and Alderman, Councillor Peter JACONELLI [Con.], the notorious homosexual paedophile (excuse me, I mean “hebephile” – another case of Officers bending over backwards to favour Tory Councillors), rapist and partner-in-crime of Jimmy SAVILE.
As soon as this egregious Twitter thread was brought to my attention, and in order to cut to the heart of this thoroughly snide attempt to discredit Councillor Tony RANDERSON [Lab.], I asked both him and Councillor NOCK to comment on the allegations made by ‘John BLAGDEN’.
Councillor RANDERSON responded promptly and unambiguously, as follows:
Merger of YCH and CCH. Yorkshire Coast Homes & Coast & Country Housing.
The Scrutiny Board discussed this 16 April 2018 where I duly declared an interest before this Item on the Agenda was discussed, because my daughter was employed at YCH, now known as Beyond Housing.
The Full Council Meeting took place 14 May 2018 where unfortunately I omitted to register an interest before this same Item on the Agenda was discussed, this was an oversight, not a deliberate oversight but an oversight nevertheless.
This may well have been down to the fact I was deputising for the Leader of the Labour Group at this Council meeting and there was much for me to challenge and question throughout the afternoon’s proceeding.
The recommendations, in a nut shell, on this report read as follows :
- Provide in principle support for YCH to merge with CCH.
- Oppose the proposed merger, noting that new legislation prevents the council from stopping it happening ! ! !
The boards of YCH and CCH have formally approved a proposed merger.
There was a motion put to Council moving to defer, but from Midnight that day those new regulations came into force to reduce the level of public sector influence in registered providers. So, of course, this motion failed.
On 16 June 2018, I was asked just why I had declared an interest at the Scrutiny Board meeting but not at the Full Council Meeting, by SBC Locum Solicitor Mr Glen McCusker. I responded by saying “It never crossed my mind to do so”. Not too sure why there was a month’s gap before this was raised? As I stated earlier, it was rather a busy day for me. This explanation was immediately accepted by Mr McCusker and I thought nothing more about it until I was informed of a “Tweet” November 19th by someone signing in as John Blagden, clearly not got the guts to reveal his real name AKA ——————–.
This “gentleman” went on to make some rather disparaging remarks about myself not declaring an interest in this matter, stating I have been reported to Standards (news to me) and would I be resigning.
I don’t see this as a resigning matter, as much as some would like to see the back of myself and the many challenging questions I pose to Officers and Councillors alike.
My oversight was accepted by the SBC Solicitor immediately.
The minutes of the Overview & Scrutiny Board meeting held on 16th April 2018 confirm the declaration to which Councillor RANDERSON refers:
Following a tip-off, and having no private email address for Councillor John NOCK [Con.] (and in the knowledge that SBC Officers may very probably intercept my email), I emailed him at his SBC email address, copying in Councillor RANDERSON, with a request that it be forwarded by him to Councillor NOCK.
Dear Councillor NOCK,
Please confirm or deny that you operate a Twitter account in the name ‘John Blagden’. Specifically, are you responsible for the serious of Tweets reproduced in the attached screen-shot image?
Your honesty/transparency would be much appreciated.
I have copied you into the above email to Councillor John NOCK both as a matter of transparency and as a matter of courtesy.
It is likely that SBC Officers may intercept this email, so I have taken the precaution (which I openly declare) not only to Cc: you into this correspondence, but also to Bc: it to your private email address, so that I may have confidence in the fact that it has reached you.
I would be most grateful if you would forward a copy to Mr NOCK, so that I may have confidence in the fact that it has, in fact, reached him.
Please acknowledge receipt, together with the information as to whether or not you have indeed forwarded it to Councillor NOCK.
To his credit, Councillor John NOCK [Con.] responded quite promptly, stating:
I do not operate any Twitter accounts. I do not use the alias of John Blagden in any correspondence and do not know anyone of that name.
Cllr John Nock,
Portfolio Holder for Legal and Governance
On careful reading, it becomes apparent that Councillor John NOCK punctiliously avoided confirming that he does not know the identity of the Tweeter using the name ‘John BLAGDEN’.
I then came across this charming little Tweet, also from ‘John BLAGDEN’:
(You are no longer waiting, ‘John BLAGDEN’. Hopefully, you will be delighted that your wish has been granted).
So I decided to press Councillor NOCK, with my customary courtesy, for clarity on that crucial matter of the true identity of ‘John BLAGDEN’:
Dear Councillor NOCK,
I thank you for your prompt response. An open dialogue is always desirable; it reduces the prospect of any misunderstandings.
What is not entirely clear from your otherwise definitive response is whether or not you know the identity of the individual using the Twitter account ‘John Blagden’ (@blatantly_fake).
If you do, it would be helpful if you were to make that known to me. Of concern is the reference to Councillor RANDERSON as ‘Randertwat’, which is deeply disrespectful. I would be grateful for your assistance in holding the perpetrator (who, I am assured, is a Conservative member) to account. Could I ask you, please, to clarify this point? Thank you.
Councillor NOCK’s response, composed (one suspects) with the assistance of a well-thumbed copy of Roget’s Thesaurus close at hand, is an object lesson in pomposity:
Cllr John Nock,
I was reminded, momentarily, of Ian DURY and the Blockheads.
In plain language, what Councillor NOCK means is that (i) he denies being deliberately ambiguous, (ii) he knows nowt about ‘John BLAGDEN’, (iii) he thinks it would incautious of him to attempt to nail the culprit amogst his fellow Tories, and (iv) he declines to assist in the matter of exposing the vexatious conduct of ‘John BLAGDEN’.
That last sentence, referring to the ‘policy’ of SBC, left me shaking in my boots. With mirth. I would have accepted Councillor NOCK’s word without calling upon him to make a complete buffoon of himself. He could as easily have said, “Sorry, Nige, I can’t help you. I have no idea who ‘John BLAGDEN’ is”. But why be straightforward, eh, and miss a chance to come over like Clever Trevor? (I can offer no explanation as to why ‘Blockheads’ came to mind).
Nevertheless, the exchange has been useful, because it has assisted me in the task of confirming the true identity of ‘John BLAGDEN’, which it will be my great pleasure to reveal to readers at the most appropriate time.
To conclude, I note that ‘John BLAGDEN’ has succeeded in attracting the attention of local political commentator Sir Robert Goodfi££ – @R_Good4nuffinMP – who has responded by firing another burning arrow in the direction of Mayor PLANT:
I may be wrong, but I feel almost certain that using the Mayoral limo to haul Tory election literature around the Borough is prohibited by some statute or other. Perhaps Mrs DIXON knows which?