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Opinion: Never Explain, Never Apologise – Never A Good Policy

Published on: 21 Apr, 2016
Updated on: 24 Apr, 2016
Cllrs Parker and Spooner, another meeting, another spat.

Cllrs Parker and Spooner, another meeting, another spat.

By Martin Giles

Another council meeting and another bad tempered spat between Susan Parker, leader of the Guildford Greenbelt Group, and the Conservative council leader, Paul Spooner.

They were debating last week, on Tuesday (April 10), the report of a review of Guildford Borough Council’s procedures for dealing with complaints against councillors. The report contained, by common consent, recommendations that should improve the process.

Opinion Logo 2And improvement is necessary. Although the council is still in denial, the investigation that was conducted into the conduct of former councillor Monika Juneja was farcical and amateur.

Terms of reference were not properly drawn up, an investigator who knew, and had worked with, on a previous assignment, the subject of the investigation and her friend, the former council leader, was appointed.

The investigator did not take notes of his interviews, accepted a faxed copy of a forged letter as genuine and ignored the clearest of steers to reconsider the case from the director of the Bar Standards Board, no less. Months after the investigation was completed the council did not even know where the investigation case file was.

A schoolboy having read a single Agatha Christie novel could have done better.

It is only thanks to Surrey Police, in the face of some poorly motivated criticism, that justice was eventually served.

We should all be grateful, as should have been the council. It should have shown some humility and contrition to restore some credibility, but not a bit of it. Even now it says that everything was done correctly. Patently it was not.

Of course, among themselves councillors knew things had gone wrong. Let’s face it, one does not need the wisdom of Solomon to realise that, if someone who has been cleared of all wrongdoing by the council goes on to plead guilty to some of the very same charges in court, something has obviously gone seriously wrong somewhere.

Only thanks to a proposal from the opposition leader, Caroline Reeves, an opposition that has been, generally, too passive on the issue, was a review conducted – but it was not allowed to look into the very case that caused it.

Monika Juneja’s name and the investigation into the complaint against her were not to be mentioned.

This was another mistake. A boil needs to be lanced.

Anyone who has ever tried to fix anything knows that first you have to examine what has gone wrong. But no one was meant to say.

In practice, the reviewers had to consider the Juneja case: of course they did, but you will find no mention of her name in their report. It has been expunged like unapproved character in a Soviet Russian history text book.

So back to the spat. Susan Parker was still angry with the investigation she sees as a “whitewash”.

Using some poorly chosen words, in too lengthy a delivery, bound to limit any support,  she said: “I do have a slight concern about the non politically proportional make up of the sub-committee.

“I am slightly concerned about that because I do think that we had a situation historically where things were not investigated that should have been investigated due to the dominance of one particular party.

“I am not casting aspersions on anybody but a whitewash did take place, it was a whitewash in the context of actions that were, in fact, criminal and despite something considered worthy of going to the Old Bailey as far as the police were concerned, this council found nothing wrong in its internal procedures. And I think that is just worth flagging and in that context, perhaps, political proportionality would not be inappropriate.”

The council leader accused her of a “spurious” complaint. The managing director, Sue Sturgeon, seemed pleased to join in the verbal kicking which culminated in Cllr Spooner declaring that, once again, Cllr Parker could expect a letter asking her to explain her statement.

Whooooh! A letter. Tremble, tremble. The council leader had slipped into schoolteacher mode. Susan Parker was a very naughty girl. How dare she criticise the council?

Childish behaviour on both sides detracted from what should have been a serious debate. Cllr Parker must learn to keep cool when the muck starts flying and rise above even unfair accusations.

Of course, we must always remember that the council is not all bad, far from it. Its performance in many areas is good and there are many very good, hard working councillors with good intentions who should expect a better example to be set by their leaders.

The sad thing is that the culture at Guildford Borough Council still appears to be: never explain, never apologise. A policy evident again, just days ago, when Cllr Moseley failed to apologise for calling the public gallery, without justification, “a bloody rabble”. It is the policy of weak people.

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Responses to Opinion: Never Explain, Never Apologise – Never A Good Policy

  1. George Dokimakis Reply

    April 21, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    It was the first council meeting I did not attend in well over a year (some Tory councillors should take note). It seems like I will have to watch it on the GBC “catch-up” service.

    In a more serious note, the spats between Cllr Spooner and Cllr Parker are a constant feature during the council meetings. I wonder when Cllr Spooner will “forgive” Cllr Parker for taking a safe Tory council seat.

    The Conservatives were not penalised by the behaviour of Cllr Mansbridge and the damage it did for GBC’s reputation in the Ash South and Tongham by-election. Will the former Cllr Chesterfield’s behaviour be penalised in Stoke?

    Unfortunately, these are all signs of a prolonged one-party rule that the first-past-the-post-system provides in a locality like Guildford. The safe seat approach allows for such behaviours to take hold and fester.

    • Ben Paton Reply

      April 22, 2016 at 6:15 pm

      One reason why ‘the Conservatives were not penalised by the behaviour of Cllr Mansbridge’ is because unaccountably the trial of Monika Juneja was moved – until after the General Electoral.

      The electorate therefore had no knowledge of forgery and deception and could not take into consideration at the election.

  2. Lisa Wright Reply

    April 21, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Bravo Susan Parker!

    I would remind Conservative councillors of Maggie Thatcher who is quoted as saying: ” I love argument, I love debate, I don’t expect anyone to just sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job.”

    I expect councillors to embrace a debate in the hope that procedures will be improved. Anything other than that is just laziness.

    Mind you, if Maggie hadn’t sold off all the council houses perhaps Susan Parker wouldn’t be in GBC defending the countryside.

  3. Harry Eve Reply

    April 21, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    The author of this article has reminded us why we need someone in the council with the guts to stand up to the council leader and Executive, to challenge them and provide a credible opposition when it is needed – as it clearly is on a number of issues.

    I have now listened to the webcast and applaud Cllr Parker for doing just that. The prickly response that she received, and the desperation to silence Cllr Parker on this very important matter, encourages the view that something has been hidden away and the leadership are desperate to consign it to history.

    Cllr Parker was quite right to press for an explanation of the accusation being made against her. I saw nothing wrong with the way Cllr Parker expressed herself – and those who are critical should first ask themselves “could I do better ?”.

    In my case – certainly not. Although councillors are quite right to indulge in a limited amount of back-slapping and head-nodding, in a cosy club atmosphere, when something has gone well – we do need more willingness to be strongly critical where it is appropriate. Thank you Cllr Parker for performing this vital role.

  4. Ben Paton Reply

    April 22, 2016 at 10:21 am

    Thank God for minorities. Preserve us from group think and cosy consensus. No one has a monopoly on truth.

    I do not agree with everything Cllr Gunning and Cllr Parker say. But their contributions are admirable and we should be proud of them.

  5. Roland McKinney Reply

    April 22, 2016 at 10:46 am

    Councillor Parker may occasionally be passionate when she supports the things that she believes in, such as honesty, openness and transparency in public life, and of course the green belt – but you can be sure of her facts.

    Consequently, she has no need to employ spin meisters, she is not economical with the truth, unlike many of her colleagues on the council. Take for example, Cllr Spooner’s oft repeated claim that the Local Plan will take only 1.6% of green belt land, but like much else from his council, this does not stand scrutiny.

    Villages are to be removed from the green belt, but their loss is not included in this 1.6%, which refers only to proposed housing sites. Oh and that claim that 89% of the borough is green belt – it may be true but it does not mean that 89% is green. The green belt includes roads, housing, villages, commercial premises, etc – it is more like a green colander than a belt.

    And GBC aim to punch many more holes into that colander, either for excess housing or through the removal of villages from the green belt. And the simple truth is that the total area of these new holes is much more than 1.6% of the area currently designated as green belt.

  6. Ben Paton Reply

    April 23, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Cllr Spooner said that Cllr Parker had made “spurious” claims. But he refused to explain. On the webcast all the justifications were offered by the managing director of the council, Sue Sturgeon.

  7. Jenny Procter Reply

    April 25, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    It is truly admirable that Cllr Parker, and any other councillors who dare to question areas which need to be addressed, continue to ride the patronising put downs and snubs that are meted out when they speak out.

    This unpleasant attitude is perhaps learned and endorsed by what is happening at higher levels in the Conservative ranks who seem to be content to make sweeping statements about support for NHS, pensions, green belt etc and all the while undermining, underfunding, and introducing regulation which directly contradicts their protestations.

    The norm seems to be scaremongering and PR exercises in making headlines out of selective statistics to silence opposition. This, at the same time as people are appearing in positions of power in institutions which traditionally would have an alternative voice; the Chairman of Natural England for one, who just happens to be a significant Tory donor and have a background in banking and property development.

    English Nature has recently uncharacteristically been endorsing development schemes in green belt. I have been a Tory supporter but am sadly disillusioned and I hope that others will realise what is happening and be brave enough to object.

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