Somerset Districts – nothing to see here
The Leaders of the four Somerset Districts have written to the Secretary of State, in response to his criticism of their poll. The full letter is attached at the bottom of this piece. Essentially the letter distances the districts from responsibility for the conduct of the poll. Referring to the solicitors used, the nearest we get to an apology is grudging at best. “Whilst we accept we are responsible for sending this information out, we did not exercise editorial control over the leaflet to ensure impartiality.”
If the Secretary of State was expecting some expression of contrition or reflection, he will have been disappointed. The letter appears to show more interest in attacking Somerset County Council (SCC). We can hardly complain about that, apart from saying that’s our job and we humbly submit that we are rather better at it. However that said, the letter seems to substantially miss the point.
The District Leaders have gone to great lengths to talk about taking down the spoof website. It is not clear to us why it should be taken down. It is satire. It is perhaps unkind. Satire usually is. The fault is not that a satirical website exists. The fault is that a leaflet produced by the poll team includes a reference to the spoof website. Suggestions that the site be taken down are, we suggest, a red herring. Arguing for democracy with one hand and the elimination of freedom of expression with the other is a strange look.
There is also something of a dissonance in the way the districts seek to blame SCC for not checking the leaflet. For their own part, they tell us they have had no involvement in the leaflet for Stronger Somerset. So we ask this question. If the districts had no involvement in checking their leaflet, why did they expect SCC to check theirs? Does that not sound like double standards. We are repeatedly told the whole point of using a law firm was to avoid bias. So why was one team expected to check their leaflet, when the other did not?
Of more concern is a continued failure to either acknowledge or apologise for the failure to mail ballots on time. The poll was supposed to start on 18 May. Ballots were sent our second class on the afternoon of 18 May. Several residents contacted The Leveller telling us they received their on either 24 or 25 May. So some residents have 2 weeks to weigh up the options and other have three. We ask how is that a fair and reasoned approach to the poll?
We have also asked a number of questions directly of SSDC about the poll – all of which remain unanswered. They are:
- 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?
Neither side has enhanced their reputation during in this debate. The truth is that the reputation of local government in Somerset is at an all time low. Poll or no poll, we suspect a reformed local government with some new faces would be welcome by residents.