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Stifling free speech in East Riding

An increasing number of councillors have set up their own blogs. Despite the response of some that they "haven't got the time" to blog those who do blog tend to  be those who are the most proactive and effective more generally. If you want to see a blog done go to a busy councillor.

A fine example is Cllr Paul Robinson of Howdenshire on East Riding Council. Yet he has been censored by his Standards Committee over his blog after a vexatious complaint by his Labour opponent Mike Whitley. The complaint was not over any comment by Cllr Robinson by over a feeling that his comment moderation policy was unduly lax.

One resident, frustrated by the antics of Mr Whitley to delay a flood relief scheme, wrote:

"In Mark Twain’s classic literature perpetrators of anti-social activity were stripped, tarred and feathered then ridden out of town on a rail. Not that I would suggest such a thing mind."

Another wrote that Mr Whitley was:

"An absolute idiot."

The comments were not libelous. They were not obscene. A strict comment moderation policy might have deleted them - on the grounds, as Tim Montgomerie says, who should "play the ball not the man." But in Yorkshire there is a fondness for plain speaking and really the  decision about whether or not to delete such comments should have been left with Cllr Robinson.

As he says:

Councillors who break the law should face the full force of the law - everything else is a matter for the electorate. If a Councillor does not reach the standards expected of them they will not be re-elected. I am at a loss to know what this process has achieved. A censure is meaningless but has cost an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money. A retired officer brought back at who knows what rates to undertake extensive investigations. How much has this cost and what services to our residents do we cut to pay for this?

Scrapping the Standards Board is tremendous news but I'm afraid it doesn't mean such absurdities as described above will be averted.

On Lib Dem Voice, the Lib Dems Annette Brooke and Lord Tope write:

There was a movement in the Lords to ensure that we had a strong and robust system for ensuring that councillors had to meet standards in public life.

With Lib Dems playing a major role, a cross-party group was successful in securing a compromise with Ministers that ensured Councils would be required to have a code of conduct, the contents decided locally, including the seven Nolan Principles on Standards in Public Life. Local Authorities will also be required to have a system in place to deal with allegations that members have breached the code, again to be decided locally.

So the Lib Dems prove themselves a force opposed to liberalism and democracy. Instead of councillors facing equality of the law along with other bloggers they have to adhere to the whim of kangaroo courts. The Lib Dems have sought to shift policy towards authoritarianism and censorship and are proud of their "compromise." Any true liberals would defend free speech.


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