Committee on standards in public life report

Following my rambling post the other day about lies in politics, I notice that the Standards Committee has published their report of public attitudes towards the standards of conduct of public office holders.

To paraphrase the summary key findings, we the electorate, think that things are getting worse. Standards of conduct are considered low by 20% compared to 12% in 2004 and 2006. It goes on with other similar stats… that we trust front-line workers more than politicians, etc.

It also appears that the value of “telling the truth” is dropping over time – 47% ranking it amongst the three most important values compared to 53% in previous years. At the same time, “being in touch with what the general public thinks is important” is increasing from 27% to 32%. Is it possible to lie about being in touch? Pick up a couple of Lib Dem “in touch” leaflets, and your heart will sink.

We’ve had years of leaflets from all parties shouting to the electorate that (a) the other lot are liars, cheats and untrustworthy villans and (b) that only we listen and are in touch. It’s no wonder then that the survey shows a trend in that direction.

I hate to think it, but perhaps Guido is right… perhaps the electorate are starting to believe that ‘democracy is about choosing between liars’.

Bonfire night problems in Skem?

I read this article on the BBC news website this morning saying that there had been fire-related problems in the Skelmerdale area (amongst others). I don’t know how it compares with previous years, but in the past I was always very impressed with the work that the local Police would do on Bonfire night to try and keep problems to a minimum.

I’m sure that they did the same this year and I hope that the fact that it was reported is more to do with the fire authorities getting their act together with press releases. However, bonfire night can be a real problem in many areas. I remember living in Harehills, Leeds when I was a postgraduate and on bonfire night our street looked like something out of a war-zone.

Bonfire night attracts some of the worst kinds of anti-social behaviour and vandalism. The police and fire authorities always do an amazing job keeping things under some sort of control. However, I don’t remember reports like this last year when the Council had a total ban on fires in some parts of the district. Perhaps they had a similar ban this year, but it wasn’t well publicised if it was.

I’m against banning things for the sake of it, but perhaps it’s time to start properly considering if we should tolerate the lighting of bonfires on Nov 5th. Keep them to public displays.

Update… Oops! Jude kindly informed me that the link above was actually just an underlined bit of text (which loses much of the point). That’ll teach me to trust the flock blogging tool without checking what’s published.

Some dangerously sensible thinking from Sefton Lib Dems

Perhaps…

Sefton Lib Dems reportedly put forward a motion to Cabinet to build stronger Lancashire links between Sefton and Lancashire. The report on “Birkdale Focus” site unsurprisingly takes a pop at their local Tories for not supporting it, but goes on to say that it was passed in the Cabinet vote.

Their deputy leader is quoted saying:

“… we desperately want to find a way to improve the eastern and northern access into Southport, both by train and car, but the road bottleneck is in Ormskirk and the missing rail link is in Burscough. As both these towns are in Lancashire, we want Sefton to take the lead to work across council boundaries into West Lancs, just as we do to the south of the Borough with the other Merseyside Authorities.”

It remains to be seen what the Tories in West Lancs make of this. If it is just a LD wheeze to out-fox the Tories on Sefton Council, then West Lancs Tories might follow suit and reject the gesture. I hope not.

West Lancs is stuck between Merseyside, Gtr Manchester and Lancashire. It we are serious about getting the investment needed into our infrastructure and towns, then we need to have close working relationships with the neighbouring boroughs.

Relative truth, relative lies

Currently mulling over the truthfulness and not of local politicians at the moment. I had a much longer posting in my head, but I don’t think time will allow… but suffice to say that a letter that we received last week from a local politician has left me wondering if we still actually value truth any more in politics.

This might sound naive, but during 15 years of active political engagement, it’s only in the past few years I’ve come to see at first hand not just a twisting of the truth (which, lets face it, you expect) but outright lies.

The point of a local opposition party is to challenge lies and deceit when it appears, but in West Lancs I think there is a stalemate because there is no third-party to keep the others in check. The local papers don’t scrutinise – partly because you have to get someone to do the digging, which costs money.

A lack of clear responsibility for local services – caused by the split between County and District – gives space for claims and counter-claims to be made with no real authority and no clarity for the population to gauge the truthfulness.

A status quo appears to have emerged where stuff just gets said with no apparent consequence. Free swimming for the under 16’s is just one example. The Tories say that it will cost an extra £100,000 to implement it and so they’re not doing it – when there is very little justification for that statement at all. Does that make it a lie? On the face of it, probably not. If they said it just so that they have something in the local paper which puts the government in a bad light with the aim of keeping control at the District and perhaps gaining votes at the County and General Elections, then yes, that makes it a premeditated lie – but my analysis is just guesswork – so I can’t say one way or the other. I’m pretty certain, though, that I’m right.

The Skelmersdale development is said to be bringing in £350 million investment into the town centre (I may have got that figure wrong), but when questioned that £350 million was the projected _value_ of the town centre when it is completed – not the amount of investment. Is that a lie? Does it matter? It expect that it does if you’re being kicked out of your house to get the development done. Does it matter if the conclusion of the project is a new re-invigorated town centre?

If it becomes OK to mislead on the big things – for the greater good. Does it then follow that we should lie on a personal one to one basis? To gain power, or to maintain power? To avoid people finding out what one really thinks?

Personally, I think I have to go back to Philosophy 101 and Politics 101. But my gut feeling is that where we have politicians willing to be truthful with the public that they serve and who can be trusted on a one-to-one basis, then it’s not just a better functioning local democracy, but we also then will have a better chance of getting the things that the District, the towns and villages, really need.