Scuppering the ‘No Confidence’ Vote – the Skulduggery Begins
- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on rumours of potential vote-rigging emanating from Scarborough Town Hall.
Finally, on Monday 26th June at 10:00am, after eleven weeks of hiding behind an unauthorised application of purdah (twice!), Scarborough Borough Council will meet for an Extraordinary Meeting convened solely for the purpose of voting on the Motion of No Confidence, proposed via Mayoral Requisition on 5th April 2017.
According to the SBC Constitution, Councillors should have been summoned to this Extraordinary Meeting by an Agenda published within one week of service of the Mayoral Requisition (i.e. not later than Wednesday 12th April 2017) and the Meeting itself should have taken place not later than one week after publication of that Agenda – i.e. on Thursday 20th April 2017.
With 72 hours remaining before the long-delayed vote, information has been passed to me by Members and Officers to the effect that skulduggery is already afoot. Apparently, certain strategies are expected to be deployed in an effort to ensure that the No Confidence Motion is defeated. Apparently it is deemed more important for Councillor BASTIMAN to save face than it is to embrace the views and desires of the public, which are by no means unreasonable.
[Left-to-right: BASTIMAN, MALLORY, COCKERILL, CHATT, JENKINSON, PLANT, TURNER & NOCK]
The proposed strategies described to me are:
- to over-ride the terms of the Motion by allowing a debate to take place ahead of the actual vote. The purpose of this strategy is to allow an Amendment to be tabled with a view to diluting the thrust of the Motion.
- to ignore the requirement which prevents the Leader and his Cabinet Portfolio Holders from taking part in the vote due to their obvious conflict of interests and manifest lack of objectivity.
- to continue to delay the compulsory disqualification of Councillor Marie HARLAND [Con.] (who exceeded the permissible six months of non-attendance back on 8th May 2017), in order to maximise the number of Councillors available to the Whip, in opposition to the Motion.
Strategy 1. The Debate/Amendment Strategy
Readers who are unfamiliar with the litany of delays and prevarications which have led to the vote being postponed, contrary to the Constitution, until next Monday, may review a number of articles addressing Monitoring Officer Mrs Lisa DIXON’s departures from the terms of the constitution here.
Before proceeding with a more detailed account of the latest obstacles placed in the way of the Motion, let us take a careful look at its precise form of words:
“To register a Recorded Vote for or against a Declaration of No Confidence in the Leader and the incumbent Portfolio Holders of his Cabinet, of today’s date, Proposed by Councillor Sam Cross and Seconded by Councillor Jonathan Dodds”.
The first important point to note is this:
Entirely intentionally, the form of words of the Motion offers no opportunity for Members to debate the Motion; it requires only a Recorded Vote – FOR or AGAINST the Motion – nothing more.
This process requires only for the Monitoring Officer to call out the names, in alphabetical order, of each of the Councillors who are eligible to vote, and to mark down for each Councillor whether her/his vote is FOR or AGAINST the Motion – then to tally the votes and declare the result.
Nothing further is either necessary or permissible.
In any case, the real debate has already taken place, in the public domain, over the six months since a Scarborough resident floated a No Confidence petition on 16th December 2016. The verdict from the public can be reviewed here.
Strategy 2. Cabinet Members’ (In)Eligibility to Vote
In my article of 5th April 2017 (the day the Requisition calling for an Extraordinary Meeting to vote on the Motion was served), I outlined the possibility that, in order to mitigate the risk of the Motion of No Confidence succeeding, Leader Councillor Derek BASTIMAN and his seven Cabinet Portfolio Holders would probably attempt to take part in the vote – though they are clearly ineligible to do so.
This point was anticipated and clearly signalled within the text of the Requisition calling for the Extraordinary Meeting:
“In the interests of openness and transparency, we draw to your attention the fact that the Leader and Portfolio Holder members of his Cabinet (as of the date of the Extraordinary Meeting), being interested parties as identified in the single Item of Business, will not be eligible to vote.”
In a lengthy exchange of emails, this has never once been challenged by Mrs DIXON. To challenge it now would be an admission of earlier incompetence.
It is also worth taking a long moment to examine the nature of the conflicts of interests which beset the Leader and his Cabinet Members.
Considering first the matter of Personal and Prejudicial Interests, government guidance states:
A PERSONAL Interest arises where the matter under consideration is likely to affect your wellbeing or financial position or that of your family, friends or business associates more than it would affect the majority of:
(a) those who live in the electoral area to which the decision relates; or
(b) the Borough’s inhabitants generally.
Clearly, the financial position of the majority of inhabitants of the Borough would be unaffected by the outcome of the No Confidence vote; Cabinet Members, on the other hand, stand to lose both kudos and privilege – and (of course) filthy lucre.
Who in their right mind would reasonably think that the judgement of the Leader and his Cabinet was not prejudiced? It is self-evident that nobody other than the Leader and his seven Cabinet Portfolio Holders could conceivably have confidence in their objectivity. Do dictators vote for revolution? Do workers vote for the sack?
There is also the matter of Pecuniary Interests.
Scarborough Borough Councillors receive Allowances as specified on the SBC web-site, here.
As can be see, the Basic Allowance (payable to all Councillors) presently stands at £4,041.24 per annum.
The position of Leader carries with it an entitlement to four times the Basic Allowance, or £16,164.96 per annum – £12,123.72 per annum more than any Councillor with no special responsibilities.
The position of Cabinet Portfolio Holder carries with it an entitlement to twice the Basic Allowance, or £8,082.48 per annum – £4,041.24 per annum more than any Councillor with no special responsibilities.
It is therefore the case that if Councillor Derek BASTIMAN [Con.] were to be permitted to vote on the No Confidence Motion, his pecuniary interest in retaining the extra £12,123.72 per annum associated with occupancy of the position of Leader would inevitably taint any claim he may make to objectivity; he has a Pecuniary Interest in the outcome.
Similarly, if any of the Cabinet Portfolio Holders were to be permitted to vote on the No Confidence Motion, their respective pecuniary interests in retaining the extra £4,041.24 per annum associated with their respective positions would inevitably taint any claim they may make to objectivity; each of them has a Pecuniary Interest in the outcome.
The correct procedure would be for the Leader and his seven Cabinet Portfolio Holders to act honourably; to disclose these pecuniary interests at the start of the Meeting, then leave the chamber, returning only after the votes have been tallied and the result declared.
Strategy 3. Deferred Disqualification of Councillor Marie HARLAND [Con.]
On 6th June 2017, I published an article detailing the circumstances which required the disqualification, as of 8th May 2017, of Councillor Marie HARLAND [Con.].
Obviously, the timely disqualification of Councillor Marie HARLAND [Con.] would have created a vacancy in the Mulgrave ward of the Borough and this vacancy would have required a by-election in order to provide on-going democratic representation to the Mulgrave electors.
But the minimum period between the publication of a Notice of Election and the date on which Polling for the said Election can take place is 42 days. However, with North Yorkshire County Council elections having taken place on 5th May 2017 (with the count on the following day) and the General Election on 8th June 2017, this timetable would almost certainly have been unachievable.
Therefore, had Councillor Marie HARLAND [Con.] been disqualified on 8th May 2017 – as required under the regulations – the earliest practicable date on which a by-election for Councillor HARLAND’s vacancy could have taken place would have been Thursday 29th June 2017 – three days too late for a newly-elected (almost inevitably Tory) Councillor to take part in the No Confidence vote.
It is therefore very difficult to avoid the conclusion that Councillor Marie HARLAND’s disqualification has been deliberately deferred for the specific purpose of ensuring that as many Tory Councillors as possible who are (or appear) eligible to vote can be present to vote AGAINST the No Confidence Motion (i.e. FOR Councillor BASTIMAN and his Cabinet).
If Marie HARLAND does turn up to vote, her vote must be declared invalid as she is no longer qualified to vote; only Councillors may vote and she has no right to be considered a Councillor.
We already know that the Conservative Group members are paranoid about the vote – Conservative Group Leader Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.] having emailed all Tory Councillors entreating them to attend. This email was published in full by the Enquirer two days later on 11th May 2017. As one Councillor has put it, “They’ll roll ’em in on gurneys if they’re able to so much as raise a finger on demand”. Business as usual, then.
It is noteworthy that, despite Chief Executive Officer Jim DILLON’s written assurances to Councillor CROSS, his Formal Complaints against the Monitoring Officer and former Mayor Councillor Simon GREEN [Con.] (for having failed to comply with the Constitution) remain unaddressed, way beyond the timescale specified in the Complaints Procedure.
Monitoring Officer Lisa DIXON (left) and former Mayor Cllr. Simon GREEN [Con.]
An additional Formal Complaint against the Monitoring Officer for failing to disclose correspondence on the subject of the Motion, as required under s.100F of the Local Government Act 1972 requires, has also been disregarded. The correspondence has not been disclosed.
It is unfortunate, but by no means unexpected, that the No Confidence vote will finally take place on a Monday morning, at the back end of June. ‘Unfortunate’ because June/July is the most popular time for people without children of school age to take their vacations. In short, it is a time when the prospects of Councillors failing to attend are high. That may militate against the attendance of certain Councillors – from both sides of the Chamber. I have even heard of Councillors rushing out and booking a holiday as soon as Meeting date was anounced. And, of course, many Councillors are in the twilight of the lives and beset by health issues. However, apologies for absence on health grounds are more likely within the Tory camp, for it is the Tory Councillors who live in mortal dread of the Whip. The Cabinet are hoping that at least a few of the opposition Councillors will fail to turn up – and that all the Tories do turn up. They probably will, since Tory Group Leader Councillor Joe PLANT [Con.] has been cracking the Whip for a full attendance on the Tory benches.
Make no mistake, there are, in truth, some Conservatives who have No Confidence whatsoever in their Leader (in some cases, for good reason) but, for the most part, they will vote AGAINST the Motion (and against their own consciences) in support of the Leader for no better reason than that the Tory ethos demands absolute loyalty, irrespective of merit or good conscience; break ranks and you will never get more than the Basic Allowance again – unless your vote is desperately needed.
As to expressing the will of their electors – well, what has that got to do with the price of fish?
So it is almost impossible to predict the outcome of the No Confidence vote with any degree of certainty. The Blues may well shade it.
What we can expect, though, is that irrespective of the outcome of the vote, Mrs DIXON is likely to support Councillor BASTIMAN in any assertions he may choose to make that the outcome, if against him, is not legally binding.
The golden rule is inviolable – “What the Council wants, the Council gets!”
Remember the Futurist?
Electors who hope for a dignified and honourable withdrawal from office by Councillor BASTIMAN and his Cabinet are therefore likely to be disappointed. No-one clings to imagined power more determinedly than those who are unfit to hold it.
The 2,500 signatories of the public Petition supporting a vote of No Confidence, as well as the members of the two Town Councils that passed Resolutions of No Confidence, appear destined to be cheated out of their democratic expectations.
But however successful any skulduggery may prove in the short term, it will fall well short of rehabilitating the Cabinet, who are already largely discredited and will, no doubt, continue to be pilloried and reviled until the swamp is finally drained. They would do better to leave quietly; the Enquirer does not pursue investigations against local politicians who have left public office. One wonders when they will grasp that it is precisely because of all the skulduggery that the subject of No Confidence first arose.
Members of the public who attend the Extraordinary Meeting next Monday 26th June 2017 at 10:00am will no doubt be instructed to remain silent throughout the Meeting – however thick and fast the departures from legal requirement roll out.
Members of the public who wish to lobby Councillors who are genuinely eligible to vote may do so, by email, at the following addresses (Group Leaders appear in bold type):