“The Party’s Over!” – Scarborough Politics: Looking Ahead To The 2015 Elections
- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, presenting an overview of the state-of-play in local politics in the Borough of Scarborough as we begin the run-up to the May 2015 elections.
Who wants to be a Councillor?
There are approximately 22,000 Councillors in the United Kingdom, sitting on 468 principal authorities – 27 County Councils, 55 Unitary Authorities, 32 London Boroughs, 36 Metropolitan Boroughs, 201 Districts/Boroughs, 32 Scottish Unitary Authorities, 22 Welsh Unitary Authorities, and 26 Northern Ireland Districts – to say nothing of the Town/Parish/Community Councils, of which there are around 10,000 (comprising almost 100,000 Councillors). UK Councils employ around 2 million paid public servants.
Each of those 22,000 Councillors offered themselves to the electorate for election at the ballot-box.
Here is an interesting question: Why?
There is a stock answer to that question and it goes something like this:
- “I want to serve my community”.
Is that the fact, though? In some cases (perhaps many cases – though I doubt it) it may even be true. But, more often than not, the reasons are not so straightforward – nor so altruistic.
There are advantages to be gained by serving on a Council – advantages that multiply as one moves up the local authority ladder, ideally within a controlling political group.
In North Yorkshire, the County Council (NYCC) and five of the seven District/Borough Councils (Craven, Hambleton, Harrogate, Richmondshire and Selby) are firmly in the grip of the Conservative Party. Only in Scarborough Borough Council and Ryedale District Council is the Conservative dominance contained by the sum of all other political affiliations.
Throughout North Yorkshire, Councillors who belong to political groups other than the dominant Conservative Party have fewer opportunities to Chair influential Committees whose composition is determined in approximate proportion to Party representation across the whole Council – as we have seen, Conservatives predominate.
Councillors who do not sit on (or Chair) Committees have negligible influence and draw only the Basic Allowance and enjoy relatively small Expenses claims. Their input in the decision/making process is minimal – they are merely the ‘foot-soldiers’ whose vote is almost invariably constrained to party lines.
1) The Money
At Scarborough Borough Council, for example, in the financial year 2013/14, these ‘foot-soldiers’ were called upon to attend Full Council five times, receiving the Basic Allowance of £3,837.96 and drawing Expenses ranging from zero to £884.25. Leader Councillor Tom FOX [Con.], received £16,286.03.
Chairship of Committees or a Portfolio on the Cabinet/Executive considerably increases both influence and the amount of Allowances and Expenses on offer, all the way up to the astonishing figure of £26,166.77 alongside the name of Councillor David JEFFELS [Con.], who also serves on the County Council. This figure must cause considerable offence to the 3,701 people employed on a zero-hours basis by NYCC – 2,653 of whom are employed within schools. [FOIA Request 39858]
So if the Allowances and Expenses provide only a relatively modest proportion of the rewards for being a Councillor, what other factors might tempt would-be Councillors (i.e. candidates) to seek election?
2) The Kudos
Many candidates are attracted by the perceived kudos attendant upon appearing in newspapers (and on their own stationery) with the word ‘Councillor’ preceding their names. Sadly, many of these people have accomplished little of any real merit in the course of their lives and therefore bring little to the Council in the way of acumen, talent or experience. These, at the outset, are the party ‘foot-soldiers’ of the Councils – which is not to say that they are not personable, nor that they will not progress to the Committees, over time, in consequence of the fact that there are many of them and some, inevitably, will be rewarded by dint of the paucity of capable competition.
3) The Privileges
The appeal of being ‘in the loop’ is twofold. There are many sorry souls whose pleasure is derived from being able to speak in company, at the golf club or the fitness gymnasium, with some air of authority on the likelihood (or otherwise) of local development proposals achieving fruition. Sad, I know, but local politics often attracts such clods.
Sometimes, however, big money can be at stake. Large scale development proposals often take years to achieve fruition; plenty of time to proxy-purchase a tract of land that, though presently of no special value, can be worth ten or even a hundred times more when its value as a ransom strip emerges following construction of, say, a major by-pass or a housing development.
Similarly, the purchase of mediocre farmland can prove highly profitable with advanced knowledge of a future mining development, albeit within a National Park. Farmers within North Yorkshire are almost invariably Conservative in their political leanings.
4) The Protection
Perhaps the least publicly considered “advantage” of election is the protection it appears to confer in regard to minor and not-so-minor infringements of the law. It would surprise few people to learn that Councillors who commit minor infringements (parking infringements, for example – or speeding and other moving-traffic offences) are seldom prosecuted. I have attempted on a number of occasions to discuss this with North Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner Julia MULLIGAN [Con.]. As a long-term Conservative politician herself – whose Conservative husband Patrick MULLIGAN sits on both NYCC and Craven District Council (CDC) and claimed £8,288 in Mileage Expenses – Julia MULLIGAN certainly belongs to the ‘inner circle’ who are apparently immune to accountability. It will be interesting to see how she fares in the forthcoming civil legal action against her over allegedly defamatory remarks made in a BBC Radio York interview. There will be much argument over whether or not it is legally permissible for her to use NYP legal officers in her defence.
It was possibly less well-known – until the Peter JACONELLI [Con.]revelations (first published on Real Whitby) – that complaints to the Police concerning allegations of sexual abuse and rape offences could, and did, vanish from the record with no further action taken. And Peter JACONELLI is not the only former Mayor of Scarborough to have evaded prosecution.
In recent times, former Councillor Tim LAWN [Con.] escaped prosecution in relation to a criminal breach of the Localism Act 2011 (failure to declare a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest, in relation to the YPL potash proposals). It was decided that there had been “no criminal intent”.
A further example: Julia MULLIGAN’s opposite number at the Police & Crime Panel, County Councillor Carl LES [Con.], made expenses claims for journeys that he could not possibly have made (without cloning himself). He, too, was adjudged to have had “no criminal intent”.
And then there were the thirty-seven (out of 72) County Councillor who accepted IT/Broadband Allowances from both County and their respective District/Borough Councils simultaneously, for one and the same broadband connection – the “double-dippers”. Every one of then had “no criminal intent”, of course – they just could not resist the money, is all.
7th May 2015 – Election Day – SBC
Looking ahead to next May’s elections – Parliamentary, the District/Borough Councils and the Parish Councils – one thing is already clear; social media has advanced so much since 2011 that the way in which candidates campaign – and are campaigned against – will be entirely different.
These may be the first elections in which details of candidates’ performances throughout the preceding term of office will be readily available on social media and on pro-transparency sites like the North Yorks Enquirer.
With Purdah beginning on 31st March 2015, there will be five weeks plus in which candidates’ lips are sealed in respect of public comments critical of their opponents. During this period, bloggers and activists can be expected to be more vocal than ever before. Voters will be combing Google for information on candidates for election – and finding plenty.
Few candidates will find the courage to face the electorate in open-meeting hustings, where they risk being confronted by well-informed members of the public who may wish to film candidates’ responses to searching questions, with a view to publication on the internet.
As shown above, disaffected voters in the five Districts/Boroughs of North Yorkshire that are presently secure Conservative strongholds may struggle to assert a significant impact on the dominant party.
But in the Borough of Scarborough, the more delicate balance is already threatened by the growing list of incumbent members who have been expressing intentions to leave the local political arena for good, rather than face further in-depth scrutiny by the North Yorks Enquirer and other pro-transparency enthusiasts.
UKIP has quadrupled its holdings recently (from one solitary Councillor – Sam CROSS – to four) with the arrivals of Councillors Mike WARD and Roxanne MURPHY (both formerly Independent) and Councillor Colin HADDINGTON (formerly Conservative). My information is that another Independent Councillor is expected to announce a move to UKIP before the month is out.
Information has been passed to the Enquirer, from a variety of sources close to the action, concerning the probable retirement (i.e. with no intention to stand for re-election) of no less than nine Conservative members (plus a big question mark hanging over the Leader himself), as well as three Labour members, four Independent Group members, and two others (with no political affiliation).
If this information is correct, that means that eighteen (not counting the Leader) out of the fifty present Councillors are contemplating leaving the fray. Thirty-six per cent. Well over one third.
What this amounts to is a lot of new faces at the Town Hall – and an inevitable shift in the balance of ‘power’. The writing is on the wall for the Scarborough Tories – which explains the desperate rush to drive as many policies as possible through Council before the door slams firmly shut.
Following the Scarborough News report that UKIP intends fielding candidates for all fifty seats, the likelihood is that the Conservatives will not command anything even approaching an overall majority after next May’s elections. They cannot even be certain of remaining the best-represented group – and they know it. This adds to the uncertainty surrounding the Leader’s intentions.
It is difficult to imagine Councillor Tom FOX [Con.] accepting a lesser position than the one he has commanded for the past decade. He has lost much of his vigour lately and his self-assurance has visibly wilted in the two years since first the Jimmy SAVILE and then the Peter JACONELLI scandals came home to roost in Scarborough. He may wish to quit while he is still within a backward glance of the zenith of his career. Even with two new hips and a liver transplant, he is a spent force. I doubt he will stand again, whatever time of year the hibiscus flowers . . .
7th May 2015 – Election Day – Westminster
Who Wants To Be Our MP?
Conservative MP Robert GOODWILL‘s seat for Scarborough & Whitby in the House of Commons would appear, on the face of it, to be close to unassailable – though has yet to secure the nomination. Some pundits are suggesting that he will seek nomination in another constituency, beyond the attentions of the North Yorks Enquirer.
I say “on the face of it”, but that is to overlook the contents of Robert GOODWILL‘s cupboard, from which a number of skeletons can be expected to emerge in a bone-rattling single-file conga during the run-up to the election.
But at least Robert GOODWILL need lose no sleep over last year’s whispers of one particular challenge to his nomination – that threat has been torpedoed; his would-be usurper is already dead in the water, having made himself persona non grata with the local Conservative Association, following the widespread circulation of information that I may not repeat – Judge’s orders – as well as a lot of loose talk of a family member’s foolhardy investment in White Line Airlines, presently in the hands of the North Yorkshire Police.
Rumours have circulated, and since been confirmed, that a best-selling local children’s author recently offered to sponsor – to the tune of £50,000 – County and Borough Councillor Andy BACKHOUSE [Con.] as the UKIP Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Scarborough & Whitby constituency have since been confirmed. Also confirmed, by several party officials, is the fact UKIP were not even remotely interested.
The UKIP Prospective Parliamentary Candidate accepted the nomination on Monday 17th November 2014 and will be County & Borough Councillor Sam CROSS. He had this to say, “I am looking forward to the day when UKIP represents the residents of Scarborough & Whitby at Westminster; together we can make good things happen”. Surpassing Robert GOODWILL’s record should not prove much of a challenge.
The Labour Party has already confirmed its candidate as Ian McINNES, a Whitby man who now (I believe) lives in London. His nomination came as a surprise to many, including SBC Labour Group Leader Councillor Colin CHALLEN, who was widely considered a shoo-in – until around the time that his credentials were badly dented by my colleague Tim THORNE, who disclosed certain expenses issues regarding Colin CHALLEN’s domestic arrangements with Councillor Tina DAVEY [Lab.] (Whitby Streonshalh ward). He is another unlikely to stand again, having failed to make any kind of a mark. He is quoted as remarking that he is “disillusioned with politics – national and local”. I wonder how he thinks we feel?
Author and family-man David MALONE, an unsuccessful Green Party candidate for the Falsgrave Park ward in the 2011 SBC elections (and in the Falsgrave & Stepney division in the 2009 and 2013 NYCC elections), is this time contesting the Stepney ward at SBC. He is also the Green Party Prospective Parliamentary Candidate.
Writing about the continuing North Yorks Enquirer in-depth scrutiny of elected and would-be elected representatives in an email of 4th July 2014, Scarborough Borough Council Solicitor David KITSON has conceded that:
- “The Council is aware of potential candidates who have withdrawn from the democratic process, and those who have stood down from positions serving their community as a direct consequence of these activities.”
This is most encouraging. It suggests that almost forty years of cronyism, corruption and behind-closed-doors decision-making is drawing to an end. We know this because, increasingly, it is elected members who now are bringing critical information to the North Yorks Enquirer – information which, all too frequently, shows some of the leading Councillors and Officers in a bad light.
The prospect of a ‘Rainbow Cabinet’ looms large now and much will depend on who can strike a deal with UKIP – if, indeed, UKIP needs to strike any deals.
Of this much I am certain; UKIP will not play handmaiden to Tom FOX’s (or anybody else’s) Tories.
So send out the clowns.