Fringe Box



The Dragon Says: Dodging Questions Is a Telling Failure

Published on: 6 Mar, 2023
Updated on: 7 Mar, 2023

What do you think when someone says, “No comment” or refuses to answer questions? It happens more and more on TV news programmes: “We asked the government for a spokesperson but they said no one was available.”

Do you think, “Yes that’s understandable, I expect they were all too busy,” or is it, “No, they haven’t got the guts to face up to the questions!”

Those who, through our votes, we give permission to govern us are supposed to be accountable to us. This means they should report their actions to us and justify their decisions. One important way they should do this is by being open to question.

This is an essential part of any true democracy which is why accountability is one of the most important of the Nolan principles that are meant to apply to all those in public life, including our local politicians, but unfortunately, there are too many at Guildford Borough Council who pay only lip service to the principles.

A clear example is the current leader of the council Julia McShane. We have been asking her for an interview since just before she took over the leadership of the borough council in September. We wanted to ask her about her position on some current issues and what kind of changes we could expect under her leadership.

Julia McShane, pictured in September, at the handover of leadership from Joss Bigmore

Cllr McShane is undoubtedly a compassionate person who cares deeply for her constituents but part of her clear responsibility as a leader is to face up to questioning. We should all be able to hear how she explains the council’s, and her party’s, decisions and policies.

It usually falls to the media to conduct interviews on behalf of the community. This allows us all to see our leaders scrutinised in a different way than possible in the council chamber but also gives them a chance to demonstrate their leadership capabilities, their knowledge and their powers of persuasion.

Clearly, Cllr McShane is uncomfortable in interviews. She told us she was particularly unhappy about being questioned on Planning which was not her specialist subject. Even though Planning is such a core issue for GBC, we agreed to interview, in her stead, Fiona White chair of the Planning Committee on the subject and then interview the leader on other areas.

The interview with Cllr White with was conducted in January but a date for the interview with Cllr McShane was still not forthcoming, even though we re-sent the question areas we wished to allow some preparation time. Finally, we set a deadline saying that once it was past we would feel free to report the situation.

In truth, The Dragon could be fairly criticised for being too tolerant, too patient. There have been published questions raised by some readers and, off record, by some borough councillors, asking why we had not interviewed the new leader in the normal way.

Of course, Cllr McShane is not the only one to duck questioning by The Dragon. The National Trust is refusing to say anything meaningful about the closed towpath at Millmead even though provide access and public amenity is their core purpose.

Then there are the Conservative councillors: Paul Spooner, Graham Eyre (both South Ash & Tongham), Nigel Manning (Ash Vale), and at county council level, Matt Furniss (Shalford) who have all, shamefully, said they are not prepared to answer our questions. And another Conservative, Michael Gove, is alone among the MPs whose constituencies overlap Guildford Borough, to have never responded to our enquiries.

We are now less than two months away from the next borough council elections. Those who agree with us that accountability is important can now include this report in their evaluation.

At The Dragon we want to hear what all the parties are saying, want to hear their proposed policies, especially on some of the more challenging local issues and we want to hear what they feel makes them better as prospective representatives for those they seek to govern

Perhaps the next time someone knocks on your door asking for your vote, their view on accountability is one of the questions you could ask?



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Responses to The Dragon Says: Dodging Questions Is a Telling Failure

  1. Dave Fielding Reply

    March 6, 2023 at 4:43 pm

    All I can say is that The Dragon must be doing something right. If our politicians are refusing to engage with the local media then they must be fearful or arrogant.

    Keep up the good work.

    That said, I’m surprised about Michael Gove who has always appeared to be one of a very few competent ministers.

    • John Redpath Reply

      March 7, 2023 at 5:15 pm

      Hopefully, I’m correct when I say that R4GV councillors have never turned down an interview with The Dragon (tough as the questions may be). Maybe the editor could confirm?

      John Redpath is a R4GV borough councillor for Holy Trinity

      Editor’s response: I can only recall two instances, John Rigg (Holy Trinity) after the Planning Committee meeting when the North Street application was refused (see: and Ruth Brothwell (Worplesdon) on her concern about emails received (see:‘Disturbing’ Email Sparks Concern About Safety of Borough Councillors). Both are recent examples, they might have been others but I can’t recall them. On the other hand, R4GV councillors and at least one Lib Dem have asked to be interviewed.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    March 6, 2023 at 5:03 pm

    Logic says vote for the person, not the party. I would exclude those who fear The Dragon’s questions and publicity.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    March 7, 2023 at 12:26 pm

    It is obvious why those Tories mentioned would not be willing to answer questions. It would only take one question to show that they have failed the Nolan Principles on the integrity test.

  4. David Roberts Reply

    March 7, 2023 at 6:42 pm

    Well done The Dragon for highlighting this issue, and for championing the Nolan Principles which are mandatory for all public servants, councillors included.

    In the case of the Lib Dem leader of the council and the Conservative councillors mentioned, the problem seems to be that they are simply not up to the job. If Cllr McShane is unable to be interviewed about local planning policy or any other important matter, she should consider whether she is suitable for the job as council leader.

    There has been a seismic shift in political accountability in response to the crises and social media revolution of the last fifteen years. In national politics, deference to authority has been eroding since the 1960s, but locally it was still alive and kicking among councillors who bitterly attacked residents for exposing the crimes of Tory deputy council leader Monika Juneja in 2015.

    The attitude then was that it was impertinent of ordinary folk to query the integrity of people in office. Preposterously, it was even claimed that councillors were exempt from the Nolan standards because they’d been elected and somehow set above us all.

    In reality, election establishes an even stronger bond of trust and obligation to openness than those that apply to salaried council officers.

  5. Ben Paton Reply

    March 8, 2023 at 7:59 am

    “Reality Distortion Field” is the expression. Apparently, it was coined on Star Trek.

    Here on “Planet Guildford” the Conservative Party of Guildford (or should we say Ash) distorted reality for years and years in order to pass its disastrous Local Plan.

    Then it lost the local election. So what do they do? Like the sore losers that they are they refuse to talk to The Dragon.

    This “nasty party” in Guildford needs completely to change itself and especially its leadership in the borough council. The councillors from Ash went past their sell-by dates a long time ago.

  6. RWL Davies Reply

    March 8, 2023 at 9:02 am

    Excellent piece, keep up the good work in pressing for adherence to the Nolan principles.

    The late Terry Thomas had a phrase “you’re a shower, an absolute shower”; not that this might apply to any GBC councillors and staff of course.

    People “uncomfortable in interviews” shouldn’t occupy high profile political leadership roles.

  7. Daniel Hill Reply

    March 10, 2023 at 8:16 am

    This is a tactic GBC uses all the time and it’s very affective. If they ignore a question long enough they hope the person will give up. Then the problem can be brushed under the carpet.

    If the resident persists in asking for answers especially if it’s a difficult or embarrassing question. GBC will just label that person vexatious. It’s like a get out of jail free card after a resident is labelled vexatious GBC no longer need to respond to any correspondence from that persons ever again.

    Most residents are oblivious to what goes on. My dad has contacted Cllr Tom Hunt and Director Ian Doyle so many times asking for an invoice so he can pay the money he owes after the enforcement action at Stoney Castle.

    For some crazy reason no matter how many times he tries to offer GBC money. They refuse to set out in writing what their contractors did on his land and how much it cost. Nobody will talk about what happened.

    They still won’t tell him how much money GBC made when they sold the vintage classic cars, diggers, caravans, steel shipping containers and scrap metal removed from Stoney Castle.

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