Mr Christopher Booker, of the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, has been writing articles for the last year or so showing that there is no freedom of speech for local councillors in Britain.
Under the regulations introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott a local councillor can be tossed out of the council and disqualified from being a councillor for years (in defiance of the voters) for such crimes as being “rude and demeaning to a senior officer”, “bringing the council into disrepute” (by attacking it – not by being involved in corrupt activities), trying to “reopen closed issues” (closed by the powers-that-be of course) and being “generally malicious”.
This is all on top of the Prescott principle that a councillor should not be allowed to speak about an issue he has an ‘interest’ in. This is not a matter of saying “I have a financial interest in such and such a judgement being made by the council…” A person may not be allowed to speak even if he clearly states what his financial interest is – or even if he has no financial interest at all. This is because an interest has been defined as including previous campaigns against a project or policy of the council.
Oddly enough only councilors who are against local government judgements that are in line with national government policy tend to get hit by these regulations. If one has campaigned against a government project one can be barred from speaking against it as a councillor, but if one has supported the project (or even been involved in drawing it up – for example in one of the government’s ‘Regional’ structures) one is rather less likely to be barred from speaking. The cases are decided by the ‘Standards Board for England’ – no judgement by a jury of one’s peers of course. Any councillor who tries to expose how local government officers and national government directives make ‘local democracy’ a farce can simply be removed from the council and barred for standing for election for X number of years.
The Prescott regulations are clearly not something that John Prescott happened to think of – they are an experiment that will later be more widely applied (already our old friends in the European Union are thinking about how to exclude from elections people who do not accept their ‘values and principles’).
When I have touched on all this in the past, some people have said “take the rascals to court!” Well this week Mr Booker talks about a man who did exactly that. Councillor David Adami tried to expose some odd things about his local council. For example, Mr Alan Greeves the ‘Chief Executive’ (what we used to call the town clerk – in the days before such folk where given telephone number salaries) of the council was allowed to stay for a few weeks after his contract had expired so that he could collect a tax free bonus of £37,000 (about $69,000 US).
Of course Mr Greeves (and the rest of the council officers and councilors involved in this and other matters) could have gone to the courts to claim slander (for things Mr Adami said) or libel (for things Mr Adami wrote). This is much less difficult in Britain than in the United States (as one just has to prove that a claim is not proven – not that the person who made the claim knew it was not true, which is close to be the American standard of libel law as shown by General Westmoreland versus CBS television).
However, British libel law still involves a jury – and for some reason Mr Greaves and the other people involved in North Dorset district council seemed reluctant to go before a jury.
So the dear ‘Standards Board’ was called in. Naturally enough it held the case on a day when Councillor Adami was out of the country (in Singapore involved in a commercial legal case) found him guilty and disqualified him from the council.
So Mr Adami “went to law”. He spent his own time and money fighting the case against the Standards Board and won. British liberty wins in the end…
Except it did nothing of the sort.
The Standards Board simply appealed (remember it is funded by the taxpayer so it can appeal and appeal till it wins – regardless of costs). A higher court decided that the Standards Board should hear the case against Mr Adami again (remember Mr Adami’s ‘crimes’ were trying to expose wrongdoing within the council in the name of the voters who had elected him, as an independent, with 76% of the vote). Naturally enough in its closed meeting (we do not want the voters in the meeting do we) the Standards Board found Mr Adami guilty… again.
But let us say that all the courts (right up to the House of Lords) had found for Mr Adami and had never sent the case back to the Standards Board. Would liberty have won then?
Of course not. As soon as Mr Adami opened his mouth again with something awkward, there would have been a fresh complaint. What are councillors supposed to do? Keep appealing right up to the House of Lords every time the ‘Standards Board’ finds against them? Where is all this money supposed to come from?
And the Courts have accepted that the Standards Board has some authority – so one has to prove that it has acted outrageously in order to have any real hope of victory.
“But there will be publicity, Paul”.
This struggle has been going on for years – and apart from a few Christopher Booker articles there has been virtually no publicity. The bottom line is this:
There is no First Amendment in this country. There is no freedom of speech – not even for elected local politicians (indeed especially not for them) if you want to say something the state really does not want you to say.
“Why do not honest people go into politics?” – because you can not even say things (no matter how polite you try to be) let alone do anything to limit the power and corruption of the state. It is a farce and the major political parties (including Mr Cameron’s ‘Conservatives’ – whatever they may claim) like it that way.