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Opinion: A Straight Question Deserves A Straight Answer

Published on: 15 Oct, 2015
Updated on: 15 Oct, 2015

By Martin Giles

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge

Cllr Stephen Mansbridge

Whether Guildford’s council leader Stephen Mansbridge (Con, Ash South & Tongham) was strictly accurate when he replied to questions about his connection to a petition is one thing, he might argue pedantically that he was, but whether he was open and honest and told the whole truth is another.

Cllr Angela Gunning (Lab, Stoke) the only councillor brave enough to tackle the council leader directly, asked: “What is his connection to the petition,” in support of an elected mayor?

It was a straight question and deserved a straight answer.

Opinion Logo 2Instead the leader sought to divert attention by chastising another councillor for her open involvement with a petition organised months ahead of her election. He was criticising her for doing something openly, before she was elected, when he had done the same but secretly, while he was the council leader.

This is not the standard of behaviour we should expect from our elected representatives; it is not the standard set out in the Nolan code which states “Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take.”

Some readers, as long in the tooth as me, will remember the Profumo scandal in 1963. I was seven years old and asked my mother what had he done wrong. I was vaguely aware that what he had done had somehow compromised our security.

It was the height of the Cold War and, at seven, I was already a veteran of the Cuban Missile crisis. I had gone to bed one night with my grandfather’s prediction “We’ll all be blown up!” still on my mind. The next morning to find the house still standing had been a pleasant relief.

But my mother’s answer to my Profumo question was not what I had anticipated. She didn’t mention the pesky Russians at all. She simply said: “He lied to the House of Commons, and that is very serious.”

She was right. It was very serious. It still is. It still should be.

We have become inured to “spin”. The politicians nearly all do it and then express surprise that they are held in such low esteem.

But if we cannot expect our elected officials to be honest and straightforward, especially when they are speaking at meetings in parliaments or in council chambers, representing all of us, then we are all demeaned and we are all let down.

Guildford Borough Council seemed reluctant to accept any blame following the Monika Juneja affair but admitted that it had suffered serious reputational damage. Such an admission should have acted as a warning call to all councillors to be beyond reproach from now on,  but still we are left disappointed.

Councillor Mansbridge can bang on about his increased majority as much as he likes, he does not have a mandate to play around with the truth. Whatever the 47% of Guildford voters who voted Conservative were voting for it wasn’t that.

If the rest of the Tory councillors now stand by and tolerate this behaviour and take no action against their leader then it will tell us all we need to know about their standards too.

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Responses to Opinion: A Straight Question Deserves A Straight Answer

  1. Janette Panton Reply

    October 16, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Absolutely. It would seem the majority of our Tory councillors are afraid to speak out, but instead follow Cllr Mansbridge like lost sheep, towing the party line and ignoring the wishes of those they are there to represent.

    They need a strong reminder they have a duty to act in the best interests of the residents of Guildford and if they continue to allow the council leader to behave in such an appalling manner, they are failing in their duty. They are also tarring themselves with the same brush. They cannot continue to ignore this and hope it will all go away.

  2. Jules Cranwell Reply

    October 16, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    To have a council leader going behind the council’s back to promote a petition which would fundamentally alter the constitution of the council, and then failing to reveal that when asked, is quite unforgivable.

    Plus someone is paying for these signatures. That makes the entire matter more suspicious.

    We deserve politicians who both understand the requirements for honesty and integrity, as required under the Nolan principles.

  3. Ben Paton Reply

    October 16, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    The straight question posed and the answer given can be viewed here:

  4. Stuart Barnes Reply

    October 17, 2015 at 9:18 am

    I suggest that locally as well as nationally people voted Conservative not because they wanted them but to stop the opposition who were (and are) even worse, more useless and, in many cases, actually dangerous.

    It is a sad reflection on our democracy that most people vote against people and parties rather than for those they actually support.

  5. Ben Paton Reply

    October 17, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    View the webcast and form your own opinion.

    No doubt Guildford Tories will go into a huddle and attack anyone who says that their emperor, sorry leader, is naked.

    Perhaps they’ll even pass a resolution of their standards committee to tell the public that, whatever the public may think, in fact no element of the Guildford code of conduct was breached? Perhaps they’ll appoint an independent investigator who fails to take any notes of the people he interviewed?

    Not only does a majority of seats confer the power to run the council, it seems it also allows the council to ordain whatever it likes.

  6. Carol Brown Reply

    October 18, 2015 at 11:37 pm

    Well done to Angela Gunning for not being afraid to stand up and ask the question. Really proud of her and pleased we have such a good ward councillor for Stoke.

  7. Ben Paton Reply

    October 19, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Yes, good on her for providing some opposition. It takes courage to be in a minority of one.

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