Mark Wallace, Senior Account Manager at Portland Communications and author of the Crash Bang Wallace blog, says councillors should be punished by voters – not Standards committees
The fundamental principle of British Democracy should be that the people are the regulators of their elected representatives.
The decision as to whether a politician is doing the right or the wrong thing is down to the voters. Only they know what they want from their councillors – and no matter how well-intentioned a quango or regulator might be, they will always have a rarified view. Often, of course, they aren't even well-intentioned.
This is why it is great that the Standards Board for England is to be abolished.
The Board has been an albatross around the neck of local government for years. With a ridiculously pernickety set of rules, they have investigated and even punished councillors for the grievous sins of being angry at opponents, gesturing with cigarettes and even for speaking up for their constituents.
The powers they have are wildly excessive – suspending people from office and even banning councillors from public office regardless of the will of the people. Why on earth should anyone be banned from office if they have simply done as the electorate desired, within the limitations of the law?
The Standards Board itself is clearly a flawed body – and its presence has distorted the world of local government. In many authorities, councillors and council officers have used the Board as a political weapon.
Thousands of complaints are submitted to embarass and hobble political enemies – regardless of their veracity. A complaint brings with it disruption, negative publicity and even potential suspension while a lengthy investigation is carried out.
The national Standards Board may be going, but to truly free local democracy of this restricting force requires another step. Each council must abolish their local equivalent of the standards board.
No longer should these unaccountable, arbitrary officials be able to wield power over the representatives of the people. Councillors should be punished or rewarded by voters – and nobody else.