Back in May of this year, I asked the following question -
What happens when any political machine loses power at the local level anywhere in the United Kingdom, indeed in any city in the democratic world?
The City of Glasgow, my native city, was not far from my mind when I asked the question. (see blog extract below). I was thinking ahead to the local elections of 2012. The wheels have begun to come off the Glasgow Labour machine even earlier than I thought they would.
First we had The Scotsman on 13th September, with the headline Labour split over plan to ‘devolve’ the party with a sub-header of Angry backlash as Westminster accuse Murphy and Boyack of ‘selling out’ to the Nationalists. (That could as well have been worded as UK nationalists accuse Murphy and Boyack of ‘selling out’ to the Scottish Nationalists.)
Then on the 15th of September, The Herald carried the headline Labour faces backlash over shake-up of councillors.
(Among those being ‘cleared-out’ are former City Treasurer James McNally and former licensing chief Stephen Dornan.)
Their attempts to clear out what they see as deadwood councillors has understandably not been received well by the dead wood. I’m a dog man myself – I have two Westies, Angus and Dougal – and I was interested to see that the Deadwood Clearer-in-Chief, aka Brodie the Beagle Jamie Mallan, also seems to be a dog man, at least according to The Herald.
The idea that some elected officials in Glasgow City Council are deadwood seems to be either an affront to democracy, or a recognition of what some have always alleged, that the Glasgow voters would vote for the equivalent of the Hartlepool Monkey if it ran on a Labour ticket. Hartlepool notoriously hanged the monkey, but so far Glasgow Labour have not proposed such a draconian penalty. However, I conceive of other possibilities. In my blog (below) of May 2011, I identified the possible categories that could exist within a rotten borough, which of course, post-Purcell, Glasgow may not be …
Within the central structure of a rotten borough there are three groups -
honest employees and politicians
dishonest employees and politicians who are up to their necks in the corrupt practices
those who are all too aware of what has been going on, but who have not participated in, or profited by it, but who have remained silent rather than blow the whistle.
Now, assuming that those conducting a clearout of alleged deadwood – such as that being carried out in Glasgow - had insider knowledge of which group each councillor was in, and assuming that the possibility exists, however remote, that they were not all as honest, public-spirited and dedicated to those who elected them as I hope all Glasgow City Councillors are, the $64,000 question is then – which group would they target?
Logically, it would be the dishonest ones, but for that to be true, those conducting the clearout evaluations would have to belong to the third group, those who were aware of what was going on, but had not blown the whistle. Since by definition, apparent incompetence and corruption go hand-in-hand, the reason for clearout can then safely be advanced as incompetence.
However, if those conducting a clearout in this imaginary rotten borough (there is no current evidence that GCC is a rotten borough, at least since Purcell) were in fact complicit in dodgy goings-on, the logical strategy would be to clear out the honest politicians who were not aware of what was going on, but not those who knew, but didn’t participate, since this might induce them to blow the whistle belatedly.
I fervently hope that Glasgow is not, and even allowing for Purcell, never has been a rotten borough, but in a city council and administration of the size and complexity of Glasgow, with all the temptations inevitably involved in the placing of lucrative contracts, the granting or withholding of planning permission and licenses, the insider knowledge of large-scale development projects such as the Glasgow East Regeneration and the Commonwealth Games projects, it would be nothing short of miraculous if no elected official or salaried employee had ever yielded to such temptations.
In their position, I would be as angry and apprehensive as the group of Glasgow councillors who have been categorised as ‘deadwood’ clearly are under these circumstances, because of the inevitable potential damage to their reputations and because not only their competence is being impugned, but a dark cloud of suspicion will inevitably accompany them if they go quietly. In their place, I certainly wouldn’t …
Colin Smyth, Labour’s Scottish General Secretary, has a job and a half on his hands. Perhaps Tom Harris, MP can help.
MORIDURA BLOG 26th MAY 2011
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN AN ENTRENCHED REGIME LOOKS LIKE LOSING POLITICAL POWER?
Let’s look away from Glasgow for a moment, and consider what happens when any political machine loses power at the local level anywhere in the United Kingdom, indeed in any city in the democratic world.
I will use the term used by Private Eye, that indispensable publication that covers the ground that mainstream media are either too lazy, too complacent or too scared to address - rotten boroughs. Private Eye regularly publishes the sordid details of such rotten boroughs across the UK, where blatant corruption, the self-interest and the personal profit of councillors reign supreme over any concern for the people who have the misfortune to be dependent on them.
The mechanics of such corruption of local democracy across the UK are always the same - the award of contracts in disregard of best practice, failure to declare interest by councillors, nepotism, insider knowledge of land development, so-called consultancy and training contracts, lucrative sinecures for councillors on quasi-independent bodies, revolving door appointments to organisations that have benefited from council largesse. The necessary links with external organisations created by the giant budgets controlled by councils creates a potential for influence that should work for the good of the people, but all to often operates against their interests.
But like all political power, when the continuity of the hegemony is threatened, those external organisations whose relationship with the political power brokers has been less than transparent begin to get jittery, and a process of disengagement begins that is deeply worrying to the politicians involved.
And within the central structure there are three groups - honest employees and politicians, dishonest employees and politicians who are up to their necks in the corrupt practices, and a crucial third group, those who are all too aware of what has been going on, have not participated in, or profited by it, but who have remained silent rather than blow the whistle.
It is this group who begin to break their silence when the power structure begins to look shaky, anxious not to be caught up in a scandal that they have never profited from. Once those first cracks appear, the honest group, often comprising senior professionals, becomes uneasily aware of what has been going on under their noses, and begins to probe the weakest parts of the edifice of corruption.
Soon thereafter, panic sets in among the truly corrupt. Having no allegiance to any person or principle other than that of expedient self-interest, they begin to try to distance themselves from what may be coming their way. At that point, the dam begins to burst- auditing bodies, professional organisations, the police, national government and the media acquire a sudden interest.
I make the above points as general observations about corrupt organisations. Glasgow City Council may be entirely free of corruption, especially since the end of the Purcell era, which may itself just have been the personal failings and the personal tragedy of one man. If this is so, then in the Dalmarnock case, they have been simply deeply misguided in the way they pursued otherwise laudable objectives in relation to the regeneration of the East End of Glasgow and the huge opportunity presented by the Commonwealth Games, displaying professional callousness and a total lack of empathy towards an entire community of ordinary working people, and a highly selective view of the law as it relates to compulsory purchase and the acquisition of land for development purposes.