There has been a grave scandal in Leicester City Council. Councillor Nigel Porter, who sits in the Liberal Democrat interest, was speaking in a debate. Councillor John Thomas, a member of the Labour Party, heckled him.
Cover your eyes if you are sensitive. Councillor Porter said: “I won’t take any lectures from a man named after a male appendage.” This was a rather childish reference to DH Lawrence, who described a part of the male anatomy as “John Thomas” in Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Councillor Thomas was frightfully cross. He drew the attention of the Council’s standards’ sub-committee to Councillor Porter’s feeble joke. He wanted Mr Porter to be punished. Councillor Porter responded by saying another councillor, in the very same debate, said he, Councillor Porter, needed psychological help. This, he said, was a “mental health slur”.
Actually, I suppose it’s not all that surprising that local councillors now behave like tiresome primary schoolchildren. They no longer have any power. local authorities are run by paid (extraordinarily highly paid) officials. The elected representatives are only permitted to rubber stamp the officials’ decisions (that was a brilliant idea of John Prescott’s). So the poor councillors are left with nothing to do but hold pointless debates, collect excessive expenses and give themselves grandiose titles (they love being called “Cabinet Members” – makes them think they are important). It is hardly amazing that, with so much time on their hands, they resort to complaining about other councillors saying rude things about them.
But it is, it seems to me, rather annoying to Council Tax payers that these infantile squabbles are treated incredibly seriously by the councils. My understanding is that these “standards sub-committees” are called upon to adjudicate on trivial complaints like those of Mr Thomas on an almost daily basis. Expenses have to be paid to their members. Overtime has to be paid to the officers required to service the proceedings. And endless time is wasted. Then, inevitably, pompous decisions are reached, often disenfranchising the electorate because councillors are suspended for their bad behaviour.
All we know so far about Councillor John Thomas’s complaint about his fellow infant’s joke is that it has led to a finding that Councillor Porter broke the rules. There will, of course, have to be another meeting of the sub-committee to decide on punishment. I assume, if that leads, as it probably will, to an excessive penalty, that Councillor Porter will bring judicial review proceedings to quash the decision. Jolly good, even more public money thrown around with abandon.
Am I overreacting by saying: “for God’s sake, grow up”?
By the way, Councillor Thomas doesn’t look like a wilting flower.