Blogger versus Council – A Very Unequal Contest?

It’s strange how stories of a similar theme arrive together like buses.  We stuck our arm out and waved two down today, one after the other, both with destinations unclear.

Carmarthenshire County Council versus Jacqui Thompson

The ongoing Carmarthenshire Council tale – which began back in 2006 – serves as a massive deterrent to anybody who has experienced the rough end of the kind of injustice / power abuse routinely meted out or engaged in by some councils.

People understandably want to do what they can to redress the balance by utilising their freedom of speech, by confronting the controlled show, and by getting their own facts and opinions out there for everybody to see.

If the end result of engaging with the system – which we are always encouraged to do by its defenders – and of going public, and of speaking out loudly and proudly is homelessness and a legal bill approaching £200,000, the consequences can be stark and chilling.

That’s no understatement.  But this kind of personally catastrophic outcome is what two UK judges, Justice Tugendhat and Justice Longmore have interpreted as just and reasonable given all the circumstances.

Politically engaged citizens everywhere will be understandably deterred, possibly cowering beneath their beds upon reading this.

Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council versus Wirral Leaks

Meanwhile on Wirral, a Senior Council officer, Communications and Media boss Kevin McCallum, has just emailed a popular local blog, Wirral Leaks, in an attempt to get them to take down a photograph of a child – one which had already been published and delivered to thousands of residents – inside Wirral Council’s own controversial, legally dubious newspaper, published 12 times a year, so in contravention of government guidance AND not heedful of existing case law.  Greenwich Council was forced to back down after making a similar, preposterous claim that their council tax payers were demanding a newspaper.

Wirral’s justification is an Ipsos Mori Survey of residents (costing £25,000) which featured a vaguely written question asking whether residents felt informed by their council.  770 people said they didn’t.  So Wirral Council now want to provide the whole of the borough with an unwanted newspaper, and not just the up to 770 persons who absent-mindedly ticked a box, realised they were missing The X-Factor, put the survey to one side, then sent it back two weeks later, half-filled in.

The council, which often claims to operate with openness and transparency, has now clammed up in response to more than one FOI request.  There will be no public access granted to the information discussed at certain meetings.  See the following:

https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/wirral_council_quarterly_now_mon

These meetings discussed whether it was a good idea to go ahead and lock horns with central government using our council tax to cover the legal costs.  We believe that professional legal advice was sought by the council at one or more of these meetings.  We should always be mindful that when Wirral Council fattens the wallets of their preferred legal people, they haven’t Googled ‘Greenwich Council’ and anyway, it’s not their own money they’re spending.

If it was, the lawyers would be sitting glumly in their chambers waiting for the phone to ring.  Because there is absolutely no chance that the idea would get off the ground. The folly of their actions would hit them between the eyes, and in their wallets pretty instantaneously.

But as it’s council tax payers’ cash, and there’s a virtually bottomless trough of it – allowing for the fact that 11% of it is never seen because it’s handed in interest payments on loans to foreign banks in London – off we go down the road most travelled – another hideously misconceived odyssey to God knows where.

The difference with the Jacqui Thompson case is that Wirral Leaks is anonymous.  They’re hitting home with their articles and appear to be absolutely despised by all seniors and many members at CH44 8ED, the Town Hall, Brighton Street.

So Lord Leaky’s constant stream of hard-hitting messages on a theme of endemic, corporate hubris is getting through.

There are lessons for everybody to learn from the Jacqui Thompson versus Carmarthenshire case.  Wirral Leaks appear to be ahead of the game, but what about those ridiculously titled ‘public servants’ paid six figure salaries to spend our money hand over fist?

Do they ever learn?

About Wirral In It Together

Campaigner for open government. Wants senior public servants to be honest and courageous. It IS possible!
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