In North Korea, voters who wish to vote against an approved candidate do as such by crossing their name off the ballot paper. They have to do this in a booth where their act of defiance can be seen by officials, but at least they can see who or what they are voting for – which is more than can be said for Labour-run Harrow Council.
The new Localism Act requires councils to publish a new document known as a ‘Pay Policy Statement’ (PPS), detailing its policy on pay and benefits.
At Harrow Council’s last meeting, councillors were given a PPS for ratification which was largely incomplete. Presented as a paper document, it contained 14 non-existent hyperlinks to additional content and documents – which don’t even work in the online version. Some of these documents are available publicly (though not all are up to date), some can only be found on the Council’s internal intranet, and others are not available at all. None of them were presented with the PPS itself.
And yet Harrow’s Labour councillors voted for the PPS without hesitation. We steadfastly refused, and the Conservative leadership and senior members and back-benchers left the Council chamber in disgust after our concerns were dismissed out of hand by both Labour and the Mayor.
For our efforts, we are already being branded by Labour with a series of unflattering names and insults, but for me this issue goes to the heart of why people so often feel let down by politicians. If we as elected representatives can’t even be bothered to read and understand the decisions we are making, why should we expect the public to entrust us with the responsibility to make said decisions in the first place?
I have said many times before that one of the most frustrating things about being in opposition is trying to be heard by residents. And I don’t mean this in a vain, media-grabbing sort of way; but in terms of bringing to their attention issues which might seem dry and technical, but which are actually fundamental to the way their council is being run. The above is a classic example of conduct by elected officials falling well below the standards of professionalism and transparency that residents are entitled to. Though in this instance we have achieved a degree of coverage by virtue of leaving the meeting, the reason why we left the meeting is ultimately far more important than the fact that we did. And our challenge is to convey this message to Harrow’s residents.