Friday 12 February 2010

The abuse of power in Brighton and Hove

Two incidents stand out as testament to the supreme arrogance and abuse of power of our elected representatives (past and present).

It has now been a week since the news broke that Ivor Caplin, former New Labour MP for Hove, was being required to pay back nearly £18,000 in expenses having failed to answer letters from the Legg Enquiry. Since then Ivor has made no apparent attempt to come forward and tell his side of the story - or offer an apology. I have heard that he has not even been seen at Albion games, which, believe me, really does mean he's gone to ground.

Caplin is undoubtedly a talented individual, but sadly he seems to be shot through with a streak of arrogance which meant he often treated constituents with barely-concealed disdain, and generally appeared to believe that basic rules of conduct were for other people. He contributed to this perception by taking up the practice of going everywhere with a "minder" (who was to be implicated in the shameful manhandling of Walter Wolfgang out of the Labour Party Conference).

Quite why Ivor ever thought he was important enough for anyone to want to take a pop at him was never explained. But he clearly thinks he's far too important to be held accountable over his expenses.

The second example concerns the Brighton and Hove Tories, particularly those who serve on the planning committee. They have just been caught red-handed using a planning application to settle a political score and leave an important local community group in financial crisis.

People who use the Queens Road will be familiar with the Community Base building and the large advertising hoarding at the northern end of it. Planning permission was uncontroversially granted with all-party support in 2004. Local businesses and residents have no issues with it, and it brings in an income to Community Base of some £100,000 over 5 years - money with which they can help the most disadvantaged people in the city.

The Tories have just voted en bloc to take away consent. Strangely none of the Tories' discussion in committee concerned the visual impact of the structure or any other appropriate planning considerations......but what did exercise them greatly was that the Green Party had once had an advertisement there. Council officers at the meeting actually had to intervene to remind them on what basis they were supposed to be deciding the application. All of the other parties on the committee backed the application.

It is hard to know whether this is a calculated piece of political vindictiveness, or whether the Tories are just too stupid to know how they are supposed to make a planning decision. Believe me, either explanation is plausible, but for the hapless Community Base, caught in the middle, it is potentially disastrous. One can only hope that this gets overturned at the earliest opportunity. Community Base is appealing the decision and is also lodging a complaint.

If there was any justice, any financial reparation ought to come out of those councillors' pockets.

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