Electorate hate sleaze – Paul Arnott

I don’t think of myself as a “politician”, and neither do my colleagues in senior councillor roles at East Devon District Council.

Paul Arnott www.midweekherald.co.uk

None of us wish to climb the greasy pole, or line up jobs or consultancies as a result of our positions. Indeed, it’s highly unlikely these would be offered. We are not in the Conservative party. 

However, there is one “political” thing that does unite my senior councillors at East Devon, and that is a repeatedly stated and campaigned-on revulsion for corruption in any tier of government. My own pals at EDDC first came together under the umbrella of the Independent East Devon Alliance, in significant part because a Conservative councillor who had been the dominant figure in planning around here was caught in a sting by the Daily Telegraph and made the front page. 

He was recorded on video boasting that he was the man to come to for planning permission but that he didn’t “come cheap”, saying that if he was going to turn a field into a housing estate he’d need tens of thousands of pounds paid through his planning consultancy. 

The police took nearly two years to decide there was no case to answer and the council itself then immediately scrapped the promised enquiry through its own Scrutiny committee to look into the matter. In other words, with the Tories all powerful back then in 2015 when that appalling decision to stifle debate was made, there has been two years of long grass followed by a “nothing to see here/case closed”. 

Amazingly, and to the council’s shame, the argument was made that the whole matter had been “political”, smearing both the independent councillor Claire Wright and my pals at the East Devon Alliance, then just a rather lovely group of local campaigners chaired by an immaculately behaved retired judge. 

And here was the mistake, taken from the national Tory playbook. The result of that shabby little denial of any further debate was that by 2019 Claire Wright polled more than 20,000 votes in a general election and the Conservatives at East Devon were reduced to just 19 out of 60 councillors, losing power for the first time in the district’s history. In other words, voters across the world hate this stuff, and it is a truism now that the cover-up gets punished more than the original act. 

In my five minutes of spare time a week I am getting going on the research for my next book, which will be about the support for and seeds of British fascism in the aristocracy after WW1. Their funding and influence persisted well into my lifetime, and the emergence of the National Front in the 70s.  

But even these fascists would have hesitated before attempting Johnson’s plans; he wanted to close Parliament for his own ends, he wants to scrap judicial reviews, and now he has nearly succeeded in breaking the rules preventing corruption in the Commons.  

“He’s such a laugh” people used to say but he isn’t; he is as much a threat to democracy as Trump in America, and if our local MPs – who lacked the guts to vote against him last week – want to look themselves in the mirror again they should vote him out of his role and take Jacob Rees-Mogg with him. Our country is not safe in their hands. 

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, it is often said, and as we showed in East Devon, there comes a point when the electorate just will not put up with any more of this stuff from the Conservatives locally. In the Commons this week they looked utterly shattered. If there was ever a time for a national opposition to unite to remove their power, as we have done in East Devon, it is now. 

PS It was these events in East Devon that stirred an “old” Owl to take wing “Keeping a close eye on our District” in 2014.

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