Pleadings and questions as poll farce continues
A long time ago, The Leveller® suggested a way forward for the future of local government in Somerset. We suggested a referendum. We first suggested this in an article on the 7 January 2020 (and repeated it in articles on 7 July and 4 September). Can’t be done, not practical, not in a pandemic; were the sorts of responses we got.
When we suggested a referendum, we meant a proper one. With both sides of the argument involved. With a debate beforehand and a single date on which voting would take place. We suggested that with enough advance warning, it could happen on the the same day as the PCC elections. The Secretary of State could have enabled that to happen.
The poll that the districts councils have put in place is not what we were calling for. This poll, as we have reported before, was supposed to run from 18 May to 4 June. Except that ballot papers were posted second class on 18 May. Some residents we have heard from did not receive their papers until this morning. So they will have 2 weeks to read the material and make up their minds, others will have 3 weeks. This error has largely avoided comment. yet it is still an unfairness. It was avoidable and it was not avoided.
What has certainly drawn lots of comment is a different error. The One Somerset leaflet sent to residents having a link to a spoof website, caused all hell to break loose. Our MPs are all writing to the headmaster (sorry Secretary of State) saying please sir – he done it not me. On 21st May, Messrs Heappey, Pow, Warburton and Fysh wrote their piece. They state “it is questionable whether government money should have been spent on this exercise.” They also have few words of support for the process run by the Districts. “The literature refers readers to a highly offensive spoof website to gain information about the One Somerset (unitary) proposal. It is deeply misleading and has corrupted this process. The leaflet clearly states that the text for this literature was drafted by an independent law firm. The inclusion of this spoof website demonstrates that this is highly misleading, biased, and shows the process has been corrupted.”
Meanwhile MP for Bridgwater & West Somerset has a different view. In his letter to the headmaster (sorry, press release) today he writes “The government could have organised its own referendum. Instead, they used a cheapskate online survey in a vain attempt to gather public opinion. There were no checks, no security whatsoever. Anyone, anywhere in the world could take part.” We agree, with the first sentence at least. But back in January 2020 nobody was prepared to publicly back our suggestion. At any point in 2020 the districts, county and MPs could have backed the idea of a referendum. With a groundswell of support it could have happened. The fact is, nobody was interested.
And what about that leaflet with the spoof website link? It is certainly true that an independent law firm has been used. That begs all sorts of questions which, the answer to which we will no doubt not be allowed to know. Commercial in confidence will almost certainly be used to spare councillors blushes. But The Leveller® calls for full disclosure:
- How much did the four district councils agree to pay the law firm who drafted the leaflets?
- As the process was, we are told fully independent, then only the law firm can be responsible for the error. So will the district councils still be paying for the services of the law firm?
- Will they now seek compensation for damage to reputation from that law firm?
- And if not, then why not?
Mr Liddell Grainger is aggrieved at the idea of a simple mistake derailing the poll (it is still not a referendum). He told us “The ballot papers were posted, the referendum is running. I would hazard a guess that the overwhelming number of people voting so far did not waste time following an inaccurate link to see a silly spoof. It was a glitch that should not have happened, I agree. But it could have been quickly rectified by Somerset County Council who were sent advance documentation in the spirit of fairness. In the spirit of stupid stubbornness, however, they didn’t bother to correct it.” This is now challenged by SCC as you can see in our latest piece:
Yet even that does not address the ineptitude with which ballot papers were posted out late and second class. Everything about this process has been botched. And guess who will be picking up the tab?
Yes you will of course.