What you do is first to ignore awkward questions, hoping your adversary will lose heart and give up. PR professionals advise their clients to do this as a first line defence when they are in a particularly tight spot, say nothing. Resigned International Development Minister Grant Shapps recently followed this strategy for several weeks before the truth caught up with him. Next you issue a bland rebuttal that ignores all the evidence of your guilt. Some fools might believe you. Finally you go on the attack and start digging the dirt. Donald Trump’s (and Richard Nixon’s) ex-political consultant Roger J Stone famously said: “Admit nothing. Deny everything. Make counter-accusations.”
From the White House and Westminster right down to dear old Ledbury Town Council, the turbid waters of political sleaze swirl about like a dirty ebb tide. It’s all about power and protecting your interests. The good guys drop out exhausted and disillusioned, but the sociopaths, the ruthlessly ambitious and the desperate hang on in there with nothing to lose, most, coming to relish their supremacy, ever less conscionable and more arrogant. That’s why politicians are a breed apart, not like ordinary people with scruples and consciences. It’s a club of knaves. Like Frank Underwood in House of Cards, they do what needs to be done. Shit floats.
Let’s talk about Ledbury as a crucible of such vainglory and conceited corruption. Some people in our town council really do believe that they are above the rules, amazed and affronted when they are called to account.
During the few weeks between my putting in a complaint to Herefordshire Council about ex-mayor Bob Barnes’ unacceptable behaviour (defamation, bullying, lying etc) and its adjudication, it emerges that his political sidekick Cllr Martin Eager issued an astonishing email demanding that I be banned from town council meetings.
‘Can I have an assurance that Hadley (sic) is not a member of the Charter Market Working Party and that he will not be attending any meetings.... If not,’ he continued, ‘then I cannot see how me (sic) or for that matter any other councillor can attend any council affiliated meeting with Hadley participating whilst this complaint against a fellow respected councillor is ongoing.’ Sent to the Mayor and the Clerk, as the note attracted no adverse reaction from them (despite my asking for their opinion), it is assumed that they concur with its contents.
While the deeply unsavoury Mr Eager (see here and here) is no stranger to foolish and offensive outbursts, the democratic implications of this are rather more serious. Is he suggesting that members of the public are liable to be blackballed or ostracised if they make a complaint about a town councillor, legitimate or not? Does he not appreciate that such remarks might be construed as intended to deter public scrutiny of councillor conduct? With his track-record, would he care?
Other councillors also appear to be above criticism. Tackled on an important transparency issue, Mayor Annette Crowe said to a fellow councillor: ‘I have found that everyone is trying their hardest to work together for the benefit of the town and do not respond well or work harder if they are constantly being criticized, accused or threatened, myself included … There is an old saying that you catch more flies with honey rather than vinegar.’
The trouble with this is that no matter how many flies you catch, there will always be more attracted by the unmistakable whiff of excrement.
To be continued....