Wednesday, September 25, 2013

GUEST POST Bullying on Leicester City Council

Photo by Dave Bevis
The treatment of Leicester City Council's sole Liberal Democrat member Nigel Porter by Labour members is no laughing matter, says its sole Conservative member Ross Grant.

Headlines about Labour bullying will surprise no one at the moment given the national media obsession with Damian Macbride. What is worrying though is that the recent story in the Leicester Mercury is not about the Blair/Brown era of internal Labour, but how a large Labour group and elected mayor treat one of only two opposition councillors.

This is no new phenomenon. As the Leicester Mercury also reported, the heckling of the only Liberal Democrat councillor became so bad last year that I wrote to the then Lord Mayor, Abdul Osman, about it.

My concern then was that politics in the council chamber was becoming an unedifying spectacle. That the Lord Mayor's position was being undermined by the behaviour of the Labour group. That respect wasn't being given to someone carrying out their elected duties.

Whether you like or agree with Councillor Porter, something which is well reported I rarely do, he is an elected representative. For that reason alone he should be heard and has a right to ask questions and get answers in meetings.

It is now normal for a large number of Labour councillors to join in ill-mannered heckling of Nigel Porter. It can start very soon into his question. It can last throughout the series of questions that he wants to ask. It frequently seems to be orchestrated by the Labour whip - certainly they can normally be seen joining in. This is all done to the delight of the City Mayor (the Labour Group Leader) and his deputy, who are normally smiling and laughing whilst this goes on.

One reason for doing it is clear. It can make it very difficult to put supplementary questions and to hold your focus. It gives protection to the City Mayor from robust scrutiny. This would be the Damian Macbride defence: the end result is all important, not how you achieve it.

As well as that, it is apparent that a lot of Labour councillors enjoy bating another councillor and relish that he is so obviously affected by it.

The most recent example was the Council meeting last week where for one of his questions Cllr Porter was following up on the answers he received at the meeting of 24 June 2013. You can view it online  from about 02:28:10, though the audio does not catch the intensity of background sound)

Cllr Thomas can be heard joining in the heckling with a call of "There's a lot of us and only one of you. You want to be careful". It achieved exactly what he wanted: it got the City Mayor off the hook of explaining whether he deliberately refused to answer a question.

But it is clear that in this case it has an effect on Nigel. And this behaviour regularly does. To such an extent it has now to be seen as intentional because it cannot be unintentional.

There are lots of reasons you can speculate why such a large group develops such a nasty culture, but that is what we have. The City Mayor claimed at the last meeting that things have got better in recent years. That is easy for him to say, backed up as he is by his gang. The truth is it has not. What used to be witty heckling is now just an unpleasant baying crowd.

It should never have developed into this and the ugly scenes that have become common need to come to an end. This more than anything else will put off good candidates from standing in future elections (but maybe the City Mayor wants that?)

You can follow Ross Grant on Twitter.

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