Resignations, Coercion & Censure
- an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD (originally intended for publication on Christmas Eve, hence no mention of the rejection of the Future High Streets Fund bid or the Leader’s extension of the BBL agreement), reporting on internal strife within the Independent Group – and much, much more.
Following the resignation of Councillor Guy SMITH from the Independent Group at Scarborough Borough Council, I am now able to report that there has been another resignation from the Group . Indeed, I emailed Alderman Norman MURPHY early last week expressing concern that membership of the Group is not in close accord with the Group leaderhip and, in consequence, there was serious risk of a split.
In fear of perceived credible threats of violence, Councillor Eileen MURPHY has decided that it is no longer reasonable – or even possible – to continue working within the Group under the present circumstances and has written to Independent Group Leader Councillor Janet JEFFERSON to resign from the Group, in the following terms:
Sent at 09:31 Friday 18 December 2020.
Hi Janet re our conversation last night I can confirm that I no longer wish to be a member of the Independent Group please can you ensure that I am removed from any association or contact with group members.
It is astonishing to me that there can be such deep divisions between the rank-and-file members of the Independent Group and the three ‘élite’ Independent Councillors who sit on the SIDDONS Cabinet (Mk.II).
I have often wondered whatever possessed Councillor Steve SIDDONS to appoint Independents with views so at odds with the rest of their rank-and-file Group colleagues that they cannot conceivably represent the opinions of the Group as a whole.
What does that say about the Leader’s judgement?
What it suggests to me is that such is Councillor SIDDONS’ appetite for ‘power’ that his appointments have been made on the basis of personal expediency, rather than on what is realistically sustainable and best for the Council and the electorate; he needs their support whether it is representative or not.
Clearly, Councillor SIDDONS may now have to reconsider his position.
If the Independent Group implodes (or falls below a certain threshold membership), then Councillor SIDDONS may find himself obliged to make alternative alliances (if he can) in order to maintain a working majority – otherwise, his administration will be powerless to carry out a single policy decision. This is known as ‘political impotence’.
But surely the whole point of being ‘independent’ is to retain the right to comment as an individual, unfettered by Group or Party policy? In that sense, an Independent Group is a contradiction in terms. It more closely resembles the formality of a political party – without formally expressing commitment to a joint Manifesto (and without springing the attendant £500 registration fee). It does, however, support a proportionate number of seats on Committees – useful currency in the wheeling-and-dealing world of local politics.
It is important to remember that electors in local elections must (usually, that is) choose between two or more candidates. Many make that choice on the basis of their firmly-held national political allegiances. They would do better to bone up on the credibility of local candidates as individuals, rather than voting for a complete numpty on the sole basis of her/him wearing a red or blue rosette. Local issues (the restoration of the Whitby Piers, for example, or the ARGOS ‘regeneration’) are seldom party-political. That does not mean they are unimportant.
At the 2019 SBC local elections, the Conservatives suffered a sharp drop in support. But Labour made no gains. It was evident that electors favoured Independent candidates precisely because they rejected two-party politics. In particular, they rejected the whole idea of a ‘whipped’ membership – Labour or Tory. They rejected the idea that a majority in Council inevitably gets its own way on every issue, whether that reflects the will of the people or not.
When Councillor SIDDONS became Leader, many protested: “Vote Independent – Get Labour”. Thirteen out of a possible forty-six seats is very much a minority administration. Councillor SIDDONS now needs a minimum of eleven non-Labour allies to preserve a majority (24 out of the 46).
Question: Are there now eleven Councillors who still support the ARGOS development – other than those under the Labour Whip? Eleven who support the postage stamp sized Town Square? The Yorkshire Coast BID? A big wheel on the Futurist site? Any of Labour’s loony toons?
In my view, the members of the Independent Group are not bound by a party Whip and should not be at the beckon call of the Group Leader (Councillor Janet JEFFERSON) or, indeed, either of the two other ‘élite’ Portfolio Holder fellow Independent Group members. It was precisely for this freedom of opinion that many people favoured independent candidates. The clue is in the name. This individual independence was paramount under the leadership of Councillor Sam CROSS and his then deputy, former Councillor (now Alderman) Norman MURPHY. Under Councillor Janet JEFFERSON’s leadership, it would appear to have become non-existent.
(I must emphasise that there is a clear distinction to be drawn between members of the Independent Group [Ind.], the Cluster of Independent Members [C.I.M.], the Yorkshire Members Coastal Alliance [Y.M.C.A.] and unaffiliated Independents. I have also heard talk of a new Real Independents Group [R.I.G.], though this is not yet official. This present article concerns itself only with the first of these three categories).
So the resignation of two Independent Councillors from the Group in as many days begs the following question:
“Have Independent Group Councillors been coerced/bullied/intimidated into supporting the dictates of the ‘élite’ three Independent Group Cabinet Portfolio Holders (including the Group Leader?) – and, if so, have they therefore decided that it is impossible, while under such duress, faithfully to continue to represent their electors as members of the Independent Group?“
I think we should be told.
Having seen some of the menacing emails and social media comments directed at Independent members (and at myself), I can confirm that this sort of duress is indeed taking place. One member has complained of being warned that opposing the ARGOS development would ensure that no Committee positions would ever be made available to Independent dissenters.
Others, like Councillor Eileen MURPHY, have received more tangible threats. Having spoken to Eileen at some length, I can confirm that her anxiety and distress was very real. The Police advised locking all doors and windows. Fortunately, the evidential trail (including numerous fake email and social media accounts) has been well documented.
Ironically, it is those handing out this foul treatment – which cannot be dismissed as the normal “cut and thrust” of robust political debate – who are the first to cry “Foul!” when their own OTT actions attract adverse criticism.
For them, the simple solution is best expressed, I would suggest, in that famous old adage:
“If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
. . . and do so, please, without purloining a well-sharpened knife on the way out (via the tradesmen’s entrance) . . .
Moving on . . .
SBC CEO Mike GREENE is in receipt of my Formal Complaint and the first installment of my supporting evidence (in respect of bullying, coercion and/or intimidation), and has acknowledged it, together with the assurance that it is now being appropriately processed.
On 18 Dec 2020, at 09:27, Mike Greene <Mike.Greene@scarborough.gov.uk> wrote:
I can confirm receiving the email and will deal with this through the appropriate channels today.
Later the same day, Monitoring Officer Lisa DIXON also confirmed that my Formal Complaint was being addressed under the Council’s Standards regime (undoubtedly, this is because it has been formally endorsed and supported by elected members, past and present).
I can also confirm that the North Yorkshire Police is now involved, not only in the present investigation, but also in a series of horrendous historical events.
It is beyond curious that the Leader, Councillor SIDDONS, claims (in his Christmas Message to members of the Independent Group) to be uncertain (“not entirely sure”) as to why Councillors Guy SMITH and Eileen MURPHY have resigned from the Independent Group.
I draw readers’ particular attention to the first sentence of the second paragraph:
- “It is disappointing that two members of your group have decided to leave last week and I’m not entirely sure of the reasons behind that.”
“Not entirely sure”? I think he knows damn well. I hold evidence that SBC Officers of Paid Service Mike GREENE (CEO), Lisa DIXON (Monitoring Officer & Director of (Legal) and Sandra REES (Safeguarding Officer) have been fully aware of the reasons behind the resignations since the early evening of Thursday 17th December 2020, and of historical incidents going back to September 2016 and February 2018:
——– Original Message ——–
Subject: concerns raised
Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2018 07:20:57 +0000
From: Sandra Rees <Sandra.Rees@scarborough.gov.uk>
To: Nigel Ward
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me.
As discussed I acknowledge that you do not want the information you passed to me about [REDACTED] to be used for any criminal proceedings. The information will be used to safeguard both [REDACTED] and others.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any more concerns or if there is anything I can support you with.
It follows that there is no acceptable reason why the Leader should have remained in the dark until now regarding the various allegations of threatening conduct. There has been a continuing pattern of behaviour for over four years.
It would therefore appear to be the case that either:
a) No member of Paid Service has informed the Leader that a member is now under Standards and Police investigation in respect of renewed instances of criminally aggressive behaviour (a classic example of the tail wagging the dog);
b) The Leader is being totally disingenuous with members of the Independent Group (i.e. he knew all along, but is allowing them to assume he does not know).
Which is it?
I have put these questions to Lisa DIXON and she has acknowledged receipt. In confirming that my emails “are dealt with appropriately in accordance with the Council’s policies and procedures”, is she implying that neither she, Mike GREENE nor Sandra REES is under any duty or obligation to inform the Leader? Is there no Risk Assessment Matrix? Embarrassingly for Mrs DIXON, she has ignored my offer of a ‘right of reply’. Make of that what you will. My guess is that she cannot possibly comment without casting aspersions – or incriminating herself.
In any case, further information has since come to light . . .
Consider the Following
Councillor Eileen MURPHY’s email conveying her resignation from the Independent Group was timed/dated at 9:31 a.m. on Friday 18th December 2020. Note the time and date.
At 9:39 p.m. on Tuesday 22nd December 2020, I emailed a certain Cabinet Portfolio Holder seeking confirmation or denial that said Cabinet Portfolio Holder took part in a telephone conversation with the Leader, Councillor Steve SIDDONS, at approximately 11:00 a.m. on the morning of Friday 18th December 2020 (roughly one-and-a-half hours after Councillor Eileen MURPHY’s resignation), in which he (the Leader) was apprised of the circumstances which resulted in Councillor Eileen MURPHY’s resignation.
Six minutes later, at 9:45 p.m. on Tuesday 22nd December 2020, I followed up my email with a FaceBook message to the Portfolio Holder announcing my email, which was presently marked as ‘seen’.
Surprise, surprise; I have received no response from the Portfolio Holder.
Readers may wish to conclude that a simple denial would have presented no difficulty and no reason to avoid providing a prompt and unequivocal response – as ‘openness and transparency’ requires: (e.g.) “No, Nigel; I did not inform the Leader”.
A confirmation, on the other hand, would have indicated that the Leader’s Christmas Message assertion (that he was “not entirely sure of the reasons behind” the resignations) was substantively FALSE: (e.g.)“Yes, Nigel; I did inform the Leader”. In my view, wittingly misleading members of the Independent Group must constitute a breach of the Councillors’ Code of Conduct and I will be lodging a Formal Complaint with the Monitoring Officer, against the Leader, on those grounds.
Conclusion: those with inflammable trousers tailored from blue touch paper should adhere most strictly to the truth – especially when witnesses have already retreated to a safe distance.
Sadly, it now appears that ‘openness and transparency’ is entirely absent from the SIDDONS Cabinet.
Finally, I must also draw readers’ attention to the final sentence in the Leader’s penultimate paragraph:
- “At the end of the day, this administration will not work without the support of both of our groups and we need to be sure we are continuing along the right lines”.
Clearly, Councillor SIDDONS is already considering his position. He admits that his administration will not work without the support of both Groups (Labour and Independent) and I happen to know that further resignations are imminent. Very soon, the numbers will simply no longer add up for Councillor SIDDONS.
It seems to me it would be to the Leader’s great credit if he were to embrace the inevitable, clear his desk and clear off; thereby preserving at least a scintilla of dignity.
Note: As in cases of ‘road rage’, there is a vital distinction between conduct that calls for ‘anger management’ counselling, and conduct that is undeniably criminal. In the past, when this line has been crossed, prosecution and successful conviction has ensued.
Some lessons, it would seem, are never learned.
In the event that the Council attempts a cover-up, I shall give serious consideration to publishing the whole nine yards.
Let us hope that it will not become necessary.