Thursday, May 10, 2012

Democracy in Copeland

I'm not a big fan of anonymous letters and comments. Unfortunately it is sometimes necessary to listen to them, because there are times when people will only speak up anonymously, it is sometimes the case that people feel that they will be victimised if they openly express their views.

The extraordinary letter below which appeared last week in the Whitehaven News from an anonymous Labour councillor is a case in point.

"SIR – The frankly shameful way in which Copeland Borough Council’s leadership has tried to absolve itself of blame for the stadium fiasco is almost as embarrassing as the fiasco itself

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the scheme, and I feel sure that many others will pontificate about its merits or otherwise, the way in which the Pow Beck scandal has unravelled serves to highlight a problem; namely that the leader of Copeland, Elaine Woodburn, is too powerful and seldom held to account.

The Labour group, of which I’m at times like this ashamed to admit I’m a member, has some seriously talented people within in. But it also has a lot of people who are happy not to rock the boat, because it really isn’t worth upsetting “our Elaine”.

She has sole control over appointments to all the key positions in the council (those that come with an increased allowance), meaning that most councillors are afraid to stand up and be counted for fear of losing the chance to claim that handy top-up.

And with such a large majority, Elaine can afford to cast aside any members of the group who do put their head above the parapet and oppose her.

Political debate is stifled. The leader sends out a list of permitted questions ahead of each full council meeting, usually all lame attempts to throw brickbats at national government policy, rather than focus on the delivery of CBC. And woe betide anyone who goes off the script – the local party rules prevent anyone from speaking out of turn. A comment to the press is by pain of expulsion from the party nationally.

Should she or shouldn’t she quit? That is the debate in the pubs and clubs and on the streets of Copeland. Nobody can doubt the hard work and commitment she has given; but the reality is she isn’t up to the job, as shambles after shambles (Asda, World Cup, Transport Interchange, Albion Square taking 10 years) proves. Almost universally, people I speak to feel she should go, even within the group. But the debate at Labour Group won’t even arise. It’ll be a case of: how dare the press and local opposition question her.

I hope that the reaction to this letter will be soul-searching by my colleagues, some honest frank debate, and a resolution to improve, with or without Elaine at the helm.

But I won’t hold my breath because what we’ll get will be finger pointing, accusations and recriminations. More shame on us.

A disgruntled Labour Councillor"



Needless to say this has provoked a furious response from various members of Copeland Labour party, who have presented the letter as a personal attack on the Leader of the Council.

It is perhaps a pity that "A disgruntled Labour councillor" gave them the excuse to bad aside his valid criticisms in that way by including the references to Elaine Woodburn personally, because the problem which he correctly identifies goes far wider than one individual.

Like the ruling groups on many councils where one party, whichever one it is, has been in power for far, far too long, Copeland Council's political leadership as a whole is very bad at responding to criticism and has a serious case of "not invented here" syndrome.

And this will continue to get worse unless they come to believe that they might be held to account for it by the voters.

1 comment:

Jim said...

Im not exactly a big fan of annnymous folks either, yet I can see why the person done so.

For As long as Copeland is perceived to be "pin a red rose on a donkeys butt" towm, then certain wards will act that way.
saying things like "my mother always said, I dont care who you vote for, but vote labour"

I personally would like to get them all out nationally. a UKIP win and call the referendum we all want.

back to copeland, well its not a good situation really.