Monday, September 19, 2005

Don't ReadMyDay in Durham

Last week, in my article on Lib Dem blogs, I mentioned the ReadMyDay project run by the office of the deputy prime minister. As its website says:
Increasingly, weblogs are being used in place of conventional websites by elected representatives and local government officials keen to communicate more effectively and efficiently with citizens, staff, media and other tiers of government.
In that article I referred to two blogs by Lib Dem councillors - Louise Alexander and Mary Reid - written as part of ReadMyDay.

Another Lib Dem councillor who wrote a ReadMyDay was Paul Leake from the City of Durham. I say "was". He still writes the blog, but he is no longer a Liberal Democrat.

Why? On his blog he tells it like this:
Behind the scenes there has ... apparently been some disquiet from some of my Liberal Democrat colleagues who feel all communication with the electorate should be politically vetted – this has come to a head today with a rather brusque email from the Leader of the City Council, Fraser Reynolds telling me to remove all mention of City Council decisions and any comments on them as soon as possible and refrain from commenting further, and that all comments that are placed in the public domain should be agreed by the press secretary.
He goes on:
I stood for election on a manifesto of openness, fairness and honesty, and have always tried to deliver on this. While the Liberal Democrats have run the Council much better than Labour did (particularly the finances), I have had growing concerns about the failure so far to deliver on parts of the manifesto people elected me under, but felt, on balance, I stood a better chance of achieving it working within the group of Liberal Democrat councillors. This is however is the final straw – I will not do a poorer job as a local councillor in order to do better for the party. I remain 100 per cent committed to the manifesto I was elected on – but I can best get
that manifesto delivered on as an Independent, able to speak my mind and hold the council leadership to account.
This suggests there is more to the case than a disagreement over a blog, but if the facts are as Paul presents them it is still extremely worrying. As Paul says, his ultimate loyalty must lie with the people who elected him, not his party group or the council bureaucracy. Even so, he is not aware that he has criticised anyone personally in his blog:
I have however sought to inform members of the public why I, as their local councillor, have done what I have done and voted how I have voted, as well as inform them about what their council is doing. (In fact, the councillor's Code of Conduct states that councillors should be accountable to the public for their actions, as open as possible about their actions and those of their authority, and should be prepared to give reasons for those actions.)
It is not enough for the Liberal Democrats to be in favour of openness in theory: we have to be in favour of it in practice too. And we should encourage our councillors to write blogs, not attempt to censor them. Is there no one in Durham who can see this?


Will said...

It's not the first time Paul's left the party (he switched to the Greens and then back a few years ago) but this certainly looks like poor judgment on the part of the group leader.

Anonymous said...

True - but what I realised in the Greens was that I didn't fit because I am a Liberal and probably will be until my final breath. I'm just disappointed that I don't feel I can do the best for my constituents while a member of a local party that is part of the national party who's policies and philosophies I support.