Let's face it, important people in Ledbury Town Council not telling the truth hardly counts as news these days. Even so, it's disappointing to see the old bullshit playbook getting a pleasant new cover version: it's called 'I Did It My Way'.
Compared to the paroxysms of recent years, this council row is like one of those small yet worrisome fracking tremors. On the Richter scale, it isn't the rupturing of the San Andreas fault and might safely be ignored, but it does remind us that deep down, Ledbury's political lithosphere is far from settled. A rumble here, a sideslip there, the movements are not earth shattering but hint at a more profound inquietude in matters of principled governance and administration.
Even the most virtuous individuals it seems, once given a little power, are prey to the dissembling banalities of expediency. That's a polite way of putting it.
During the summer, members of the Labour Party's Ledbury branch applied to the Town Council for a Saturday pitch in November at the town centre market. Council staff sent back a brisk refusal, saying it would be against the rules set out in the town's Tudor-period market charter. Who knew there were political parties in the time of Good Queen Bess when the charter was written?
When challenged to back up this claim, council chairman Nina Shields shifted position and said it was 'council policy' not to let market pitches to political parties. This would be fine, were such a policy actually to exist, but it doesn't.
At the recent town council meeting (1/11/18) where the matter was finally discussed, Nina Shields glossed over the absence of an actual written policy to justify the prohibition, by saying it was a 'custom and practice policy', whatever that is.
As if it were a good thing, she explained that many political groups had fallen foul of Ledbury's political prohibition, even recently. In the interests of being even-handed, this meant it would not be right to allow the Labour Party to have a market presence, since this would give it an unfair benefit over other rival groups which had been previously disadvantaged. Anyway, where might it end? If we were to hire to the Labour Party, how could we refuse the far-right English Defence League proselytising among the lettuces and polyanthus plugs?
Even when she's busking dangerously close to the edge of truth, Nina usually sounds plausible. Despite this, the restless, distant booming sound of deep earth movement was palpable. By my reckoning, the chairman uttered three creaking fallacies in as many sentences.
In Nina's weltenschauung, it appears to be valid to maintain an incorrect position into the future because this avoids being unfair to past victims of one's unjust errors. This is a variant of the fallacy of Sunk Costs. Ok, we've been doing this wrong for years, but we can't change now, because it would mean admitting we've mistreated many people beforehand and that would be intolerable. Instead, we carry on doing the wrong thing to ensure the pain is equitably spread; we make everyone suffer in the worst of all possible worlds.
Let's call this the Lord Denning fallacy: we can't admit the Birmingham Six were treated unjustly, since this would mean that the police were corrupt, and that would be an 'appalling vista' which would undermine confidence in the whole criminal justice system and that would never do. Best to let the hapless victims stay in prison therefore.
Going for the triple, Nina also pulled off the Appeal to Tradition fallacy: we've always done it this way, so we should carry on doing it, even if it is wrong. Then she gave the Slippery Slope fallacy an outing: where will it end? Neo-Nazis?
As with all the manifest errors of the previous council regime, it would have been so much more honourable - and easier - for her to say simply: we got it wrong, we're sorry.
The chairman did not, instead mounting a stubborn defence, even pressurising a councillor to withdraw their proposal that the ban on political market hirings be lifted. Unwilling to admit even a trivial gaffe, the council administration, including its chairman, was prepared to turn itself inside out so as to conceal its mistake and save face, sadly familiar territory to town council watchers.
Councillors across the spectrum - including Howells and Warmington - and the public muttered doubtingly, eying Shields in a new, less endearing light: what's with the power trip Nina?
As we've said before: when will they ever learn? In the past, with a supine council and an apathetic public, it was just possible for the little cryptocracy at the centre of town council affairs to make up policy as they went, to keep everything important under wraps, and be constantly economical with the actualité in the cause of maintaining its grip on power.
Those days are gone. Ledbury's infamous judicial trouncing has realigned the tectonic blocks of local politics for good. They won't get away with it. People are watching. This town has had enough ropey excuses to last a lifetime. The truth fracking has just started. Now it must stop.
Note: Nina Shields was given an opportunity but declined to respond to the contention that the Council had been overzealous or had overreached its competence. The Ledbury Reporter's tolerably accurate report is here.