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In just over seven weeks, seven men will line up against each other in the race to be Middlesbroughs next mayor. On May the 8th, six of those men will wake up to the reality that they have failed, despite their best efforts and, for some, the efforts of the parties which support them.

The seven candidates to have declared their intention to stand for election thus far are as follows.

Deputy Mayor Dave Budd (Labour)

Michael J Carr (Independent)

Lloyd Cole-Nolan (Conservative)

Len Junier (Independent)

David Masterman (Green)

Andy Preston (Independent)

Dave Roberts (Independent)

Yesterday, I used Twitter to ask each of the seven candidates not what they would do if they were elected as mayor, but what they would do if they weren’t successful.

I was pleased to get responses from over half of the candidates (four, to be precise).

First to respond was cllr Len Junier. Len has been a councillor on Middlesbrough council for many years, mainly as a Labour councillor, unitl last year when he was deselected by the party and chose, along with others, to become Independent councillors. Len is now standing as an Independent mayoral candidate.

bM: What will you do if you DON’T win the mayoral election?

Len Junier: carry on regardless I was an activist long before a politician.

bM: Carry on with what, though Len? You won’t be mayor or councillor

Len Junier: as I said activism isn’t about being a Cllr, activists are vital

bM: Who or what (and how) will you be an activist for?

Len Junier: my community

bM: And the ‘how’?

Len Junier: many ways as before I became a Cllr

Next up, I received a response from former Boro commentator and Independent candidate Dave Roberts. Dave has given up his role as a Vice President with Fox TV to return to Boro from Singapore to stand for election as mayor.

bM: What will you do if you DON’T win the mayoral election?

Dave Roberts: Give my initiatives to successor & return to business… as sadly, I’m not wealthy enough to toy with things.

bM: Would that mean moving back out of Mbro, Dave?

Dave Roberts: Only been out 5yrs from total of 50 John. Watch spin.

bM: From your leaflet “to return home to stand as mayor”

Dave Roberts: All true, last yr I was split between Boro & Singapore

bM: Therefore, valid question, would you leave Boro again?

Dave Roberts:  Much prefer to stay Boro, but if only option I’d have… to look at it due to responsibility to family

bM: Fair point and thanks for an honest answer, Dave.

bM: Is your post at Fox still open for you to return to?

Dave Roberts: No John. That chapter has permanently closed… 4 clarity John, I resigned from my job to run 4 mayor.

Because of constraints on my time, I wasn’t at my keyboard when I received the two other responses. Next to respond was relative newcomer to this years mayoral race Michael J Carr. Michael is another former Labour Party member to ‘go Independent’. He stood in the last mayoral election as a Labour candidate against Ray Mallon.

bM: What will you do if you DON’T win the mayoral election?

Michael J Carr: I would keep living and working in Middlesbrough. I enable unemployed local people to find work and realise their potential.

And, finally, this morning I received a response from Andy Preston. Andy is yet another Independent candidate for the mayoral election, the only one to live outside of Middlesbrough, but has business interests in the town, as well as being the founder and chairman of Teesside Philanthropic Foundation, which raises money for local charities and good causes.

bM: What will you do if you DON’T win the mayoral election?

Andy Preston: I’ll use the time to really push my charities & launch some new social ventures Also see my kids!

I think that it’s quite telling that all of the Independent candidates have responded to the question, yet I’m still waiting for responses from any of the party-tied candidates. I appreciate that I make no excuses about being pro-Independent myself, which may be off-putting to the party candidates as they may feel that they won’t get a fair crack of the whip.

So, given the limitations of Twitter and the fact that I myself have my own political opinion, here’s the opportunity I’d like to offer all seven of the mayoral candidates. You are all welcome to submit an answer to the question “What will you do if you DON’T win the election?” via the comments system here on the betterMiddlesbrough blog. All seven candidates are welcome to do so, as those who took the time to respond via twitter may wish to give fuller responses or elaborate further on their responses and it would be unfair to restrict them solely to their twitter response, then give others a fuller opportunity to respond. All comments on the betterMiddlesbrough blog are ‘moderated’ before being posted; i.e., I get to read them before I approve them in order to ensure that they’re not spam and that they’re not rude, offensive or likely to get me into bother by hosting them. Occasionally I’ll correct obvious typos. For the purposes of this invitation to our mayoral candidates, I would seek to assure them that their responses will be approved without amendment or omission, as long as they are happy to accept responsibility for their responses. In order to rule out any ‘mischievous’ responses from people presenting themselves falsely as electoral candidates, any response from a candidate needs to be accompanied by a Direct Message to my twitter account, @JohnFromBoro, confirming that you have sent a comment for inclusion. So it’s three easy steps.

1) Write your response to the question

2) Submit it as a comment to this thread

3) Send a confirmation via Direct Message, from your official twitter account to @JohnFromBoro.

I’ll try to approve your replies as quickly as possible.

One last thing, only responses from candidates will be posted on this thread. Comments from others will not be accepted.

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Just a quick new post to bring the actions of Scarborough Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council and North Yorkshire Police to the attention of as many people as possible.

For a number of years, Nigel Ward and Tim Hicks have acted as ‘citizen journalists’. Indeed, Nigel was one of my inspirations in setting up the BetterMiddlesbrough blog. I only wish I had the time, skills and temerity that he and Tim Hicks have shown in their endeavours.

Initially, Nigel & Tim published their work on the website ‘Real Whitby’. More recently, they have agreed to leave the Real Whitby website and now write for the North Yorkshire Enquirer. I understand that they made this decision following pressure placed upon the owners of the Real Whitby website by the authorities mentioned above.

Rather than re-write the whole story here, I’d ask readers to take a look at this piece on “Before Its News”

 

In short, EVERYTHING that Nigel Ward and Tim Hicks have exposed to the public about Scarborough Borough Council, North Yorkshire County Council, North Yorkshire Police and individuals within those organisations acting in an official capacity has been found to be true. Because of this, nine INDIVIDUALS associated with these organisations – NOT the authorities themselves – are to spend public money on seeking an injunction against Nigel and Tim to silence them from making further embarrassing public revelations about the way that their corrupt local authority operates.

This is a disgrace. When publicly funded organisations can spend public money to protect its employees, members and officials from the warranted scrutiny of the public that have no option but to pay their allowances and wages, it is time to draw a line in the sand.

Please, if you have five minutes, take the time to share the ‘Before It’s News’ article on your Facebook account or tweet it on twitter. The more people that speak out about this continued outrageous behaviour by local authorities, the more chance it will fail.

In the past, cllr McTigue has actually reported me to the police for expressing my opinion on some of her actions. So what I’m about to say may come as a shock to some people.

The English language is ‘fluid’ and definitions of words and their usage changes over time. Take ‘gay’ for example. It once meant ‘happy’, then changed to describe a sexual ‘preference’ in a derogatory way. The Gay Rights movement changed that, liberated the word ‘gay’ and the word has been used as a legitimate adjective to describe people of that same sexual ‘preference’ for years. Now, it would seem, younger people are using the word ‘gay’ to describe anything that they don’t like or agree with. “That’s just gay…”

Cllr McTigue did NOT apply the words in question to anyone. They were not used against any person, group of people or any ethnicity. She simply asked when the words quoted became automatically ‘racist’ and stated, truthfully, that they were commonplace in the 70’s. It’s true, there’s a lot about the 70’s which we now look back on with shame but those of us who lived through those times (I was very young but heard those words used freely in everyday speech) are left wondering when and how their usage became derogatory. That doesn’t mean that cllr McTigue uses those words to describe people or that cllr McTigue judges people based on their race, colour, religion or ethnicity. THAT would be racism.

In my opinion, cllr McTigue is a human being and, as such, is not perfect. She divides opinion like Marmite, often goes the wrong way about doing things, frequently rubs people up the wrong way by ignoring protocol and some people love her for it, others hate her for it in equal measure. Those who approve of her methods will call her ‘old-school’ and ‘no-nonsense’, while others will call her a dinosaur, stuck in a time long-gone. But, whatever else you think of her, I’ll tell you something, she’s no racist.

The move at last nights council meeting was politically motivated. There’s an election in four months time and the Labour Party in control of Middlesbrough Council are running scared from the surge of Independent Councillors who have gained more support in each local election for over a decade. Executive cllr Charlie Rooney is standing in the same ward as cllr McTigue this time around even though cllr Rooney, a long-term Labour trougher who moves from ward to ward wreaking Labours havoc on some of the poorest communities in Middlesbrough in order to fill ‘safe’ Labour seats and continue his ride on the gravy-train doesn’t live in that ward. Ironically, he prefers to propagate his Socialist agenda from a nicer, Conservative area of Kader Ward.

As it would look highly suspect for cllr Rooney to make the racism allegations himself, another Labour councillor was called upon to make the allegations. Then, once those allegations were made, yet another Labour cllr, Bob Kerr, who is the chair of the council REFUSED to allow cllr McTigue to speak in her own defence.

If Labour have to stoop to turning the Council Meeting into a Kangaroo Court, it only serves to show just how scared they are of the coming election and the strong, community-focused, community-accountable Independent candidates that have put themselves forward this year.

I may not agree with much of what cllr McTigue says. But I would fight with my dying breath to defend her right to say it.

This is Labours candidate for the mayoral election, current deputy mayor, Labour cllr Dave Budd.

Deputy Mayor, Labour cllr Dave Budd

One of Daves election promises is that he will set up a Credit Union for Middlesbrough, offering affordable loans to people in the town. Sounds very philanthropic on the surface, doesn’t it?

But hang on because, as with all of Labours financial shenanigans, you have to scratch beneath the headlines to find out what this really means for Middlesbrough. First of all, let’s remember that the council and the mayor have no money of their own. They spend OUR money – the money they take from us in taxes.

Now councillor Budd wants us to be grateful that he’s prepared to lend us our own money back – at a ‘reasonable’ rate of interest! It’d be hilarious if it wasn’t so painfully exemplary of the typical Labour attitude to the people of Middlesbrough.

If that wasn’t bad enough, let’s look at how the ‘Mayors Credit Union’ would operate. As cllr Budd is currently deputy mayor of Middlesbrough and a Labour Party representative, we can only assume that he will operate under the auspices of Labour Party dictat, which have clearly served Middlesbrough so well and raised Middlesbrough to the heady heights of financial stability that it currently enjoys. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Deal with it.)

In order to understand how Middlesbroughs Labour-controlled council operate under party dogma, we should look at their current record on debt collection. Under a Labour government, Middlesbrough Council were woeful in their collection of Council Tax arrears, and the Labour government allowed them to be. Better to keep the benefit-dependent Labour voters comfortable, than pay their share. In the years since the change of government, Middlesbrough Council has become more pro-active in prosecuting for non-payment of Council Tax. Is this a co-incidence, or are Labour intent on making people feel the implications of the coalitions austerity drive? The subliminal message to the people of Middlesbrough is that Labour government makes you better off, Coalition / Tory / LibDem government take you to court and make you pay.

So, how will this translate to Mayor Budds “Bank of Middlesbrough Council” plans?

IF we have a Labour-controlled council, or a Labour government, you can guarantee that Mayor Budds Credit Union will play fast and loose with the money that they take from us in taxes, then lend back to us at a profit. First of all, Credit Unions lend to people refused loans by the banks – people with little or no collateral and/or low / unstable incomes who are more likely to default. I’m not saying everyone who lends from a Credit Union or loan company will default, but they are definitely higher risk. The mayors Credit Union will be gambling our money on people that have poor credit records and then, when they can’t pay, the money will be ‘written-off’. It will become known as a ‘soft touch’ for free money that you don’t have to pay back. All in the name of perpetuating the good name of the Labour Party, at the taxpayers’ expense.

Alternatively, IF we have an Independent Council, or Labour do not hold a majority in MBC, we will see the Credit Union chasing people down to repay those loans, adding fines and legal fees to their burden. This will be followed by Labour councillors and Labour candidates doing lots of hand-wringing in the Gazette, shedding false tears for the beleaguered and promising that this wouldn’t happen under a Labour majority council. Again, it’ll be a Labour Party propaganda tool.

Either way, Middlesbrough loses. Under a Labour council, the Credit Union will write-off debts in order to maintain it’s ‘people-friendly’ credentials, losing huge amounts of taxpayers money, which could have otherwise done so much good for the town. Under a non-Labour council, more of the poorest people in the town will be plunged into debt and suffer a poor credit rating (whic Labour will blame on either a non-Labour government or non-Labour council, whichever convenient scapegoat happens to be available at the time.)

The whole idea of a Council-owned (taxpayer-funded) Credit Union stinks. It’s set to become yet another Labour Party propaganda tool, paid for by every member of the taxpaying public of Middlesbrough, irrespective of whether or not they voted for Dave Budd.

Same old Labour, filling their troughs at the expense of everyone else. Don’t fall for this smoke and mirrors financial con-trick by former banker, Dave “Wonga” Budd.

*** The broken link to the third film has now been repaired.***

*** My own footage of events has now been uploaded to YouTube. If you have nothing better to do for the next thirty minutes, you can see it by clicking here. .***

As you are probably aware right now, on Wednesday night, I attempted to follow the advice of State Secretary for Local Government Eric Pickles and record the proceedings at the AGM of Middlesbrough Borough Council. My reason for wanting to film the meeting was that I anticipated some form of, shall we say, acrimonious exchange, between the mayor, senior Labour councillors and the five former Labour councillors. I want to make it clear too that I hasd not been briefed, as some have suggested, by anyone. What I did, I did under my own steam, of my own will and I believe that, as a member of the public, I was within my rights to do it.

Our council, contrary to the view of the State Secretary, does not permit video recording of its meetings. It does permit the use of social media by those assembled – twitter, FaceBook etc., however, it stops short of allowing Joe Public from making an accurate videographic record of the same meeting. So, it’s OK for people to put their own opinion into the public domain, and put their own angle, spin, dogma, political slant – call it what you will – into the public but, when it comes to attempting to gather factual accounts of the workings of our council, you are barred by the ‘council constitution’.

As someone who is frequently pilloried by Labour supporters, councillors of all political persuasions and others, for the content of my blog being, as it is, a mixture of opinion, reasoned deduction and, where it’s possible to ascertain, fact, I see a distinct irony that I should be blocked by the councils own constitution from gathering and recording factual footage, while it allows it’s own councillors to tweet their own opinions, spin and party dogma during meetings.

We should be aware that not all councillors are against the recording of council meetings by the public. Many expressed support for my actions at the meeting, while others have since posted online that they are not opposed to the recording of meetings. But, at present, Mayor Mallon and his Labour-heavy executive are the majority (granted the majority is slimmer than it’s ever been but they were a strong majority when the constitution was last amended to allow ‘tweeting’, etc.) who decide what goes on and what doesn’t. We have to ask ourselves, what is it that those members of the council who hide behind the constitution so afraid of? Are they fearful that the public will finally get to see a true record of which councillors vote for which policies? Are they afraid that the people that elected them will see what they get for their taxes?

Our council is elected to serve us, the public – not dictate to us and tell us what we can and can’t see and know about the council that we have no option but to pay for. Far from being of detriment to the council, public recording of meetings would lead to heightened transparency, resulting in more accountability and, therefore, better performance from our council.

After a monumental struggle to upload to YouTube, I have finally been able to put into the public forum footage recorded at Middlesbrough Borough  Council AGM on Wednesday 14th May, 2014. There are currently three clips uploaded. All three were filmed by another attendee at the meeting, who only began recording once the meeting had been adjourned. This recording was not planned, it was a spontaneous response to the events that unfolded once the meeting had been adjourned. And I repeat that point for a reason, which will become apparent.

The first clip shows the police involvement and my interaction with them. I’m still at a loss as to why the police were involved. I had not breached the law in any way and, given his former employment, Mayor Mallon was quite aware of that, as he’d witnessed the whole thing. It is not the role of the police to implement the council constitution. Apparently, there were four officers sat in a car outside the meeting before it had even started, at the request of the mayor. However, given that they had already used Town Hall door staff (two very polite, very diplomatic, slightly built gents, not in the least bit intimidating) to try to convince me to cease recording, I suppose a bit of police intimidation was the natural next step. Click here to see the first short film on YouTube.

OK, so, the police intimidation didn’t work. As you can see from the footage, I politely declined to stop filming and assured the police officers that, despite accusations to the contrary, that I had committed no breach of the law. In a room full of witnesses, they had no option but to back away to a more discreet vantage point from which they were still able to intervene should events get out of hand, which is fully understandable.

Once the council realised that the police had no just cause to remove me, they sent in their senior legal adviser, Bryn Roberts, to argue the constitutional points. The constitution, however, opens with the following line.

“Middlesbrough Council has agreed a new constitution which sets out how the Council operates, how decisions are made and the procedures which are followed to ensure that these are efficient, transparent and accountable to local people.”

You will note, the constitution “sets out how the Council operates”. I am not a member of the council. I am a citizen.

As a citizen, I do have responsibilities under the constitution. These are defined in Section 3.2

3.2 Citizens’ Responsibilities
Citizens must not be violent, abusive or threatening to councillors or officers and must not willfully harm things owned by the Council, councillors or officers.

I acted within those responsibilities at all times. Irrespective of the content of the constitution in Section 25, the constitution pertains to the Council and I complied with the only responsibilities required of me as a citizen.

Still, you can click here to watch Bryn Roberts trying to argue that I shouldn’t be able to film the meeting and asking me to leave. Once again, I politely decline. Notice that Mr Roberts doesn’t approach me alone, he is flanked by his door staff once again.

 

Anyway, by now the council and chair were getting pretty desperate. I was a citizen, complying with the constitution as required, committing no breach of the law, legally and rightfully attending a public meeting of public servants in a public building, despite the calls from some Labour activists seated behind me to ‘just throw him out”.

So, desperate times call for desperate measures. Newly appointed chair, cllr Bob Kerr returned to the room and instructed everyone assembled to relocate to the quadrangle (an outdoor area in the centre of the Town Hall). The purpose of this unprecedented step was quite clear. First, if I refused to leave, there would be no witnesses as to their next course of action. I was to be isolated, away from prying eyes. The other person filming decided to stay with me, to avert this. Second, if we chose to comply and leave, we would be denied the right to return to the meeting. Upon discussion, I decided that the point of my refusal to cease filming had been made and that it was appropriate to leave the building in order to allow the meeting to continue. I left, and I did not attempt to return to the meeting.

However, the other member of the public, who had not disrupted the meeting and had only commenced recording events once the meeting was adjourned, decided to go back for the rest of the meeting. Click here to see what happened when he attempted to return.

Please watch the video carefully.

At 0.25, Mayor Mallon directs the chair, who is supposed to be in control of proceedings, regarding the grounds to refuse admission. “You haven’t to give any grounds, you’re the chair of the council. That’s it.”

At 0.44, Mallon turns to the female police officer behind him and appears to signal. The police then move in. Is it Mallons job to instruct the police in the execution of their duties and when it is appropriate to act?

At 2.35 Look inside the doorway. The gentleman who has just been allowed back into the meeting is local political activist, Dennis Lane. His entry is being blocked by Mayor Mallon. Elsewhere on this blog, Dennis has commented as to the conversation that took place inside the doorway. His version of the conversation is thus:

“People were eventually allowed back to the Council Chamber from the quadrangle,I was one of the first allowed by the Chair Bob Kerr, after much persuation, Bob was stood in the doorway vetting entry, Mallon was stood about 10Ft in the entrance, Mallon was shouting do not back down Bob. I walked in Mallon would not move, I asked him to move, his answer was walk round me, I again requested him to move, he said say please, With as much contempt I could muster I said ‘Please’. He then stood aside, this is the actions of the Mayor.

Our mayor, apparently, acted to bully and intimidate a pensioner!

At 3.25 Labour councillor Peter Purvis twice calls the filmer a “fool”. The female police officer then tells the man filming that HE’S being quite insulting and should stop! No rebuke for cllr Purvis, though.

Finally, at 4.29 The man who initially reported to the chair that I was recording the meeting, Chris Snowdon, a fellow citizen, who is also a member of the Labour Party and, strangely, Mayor Mallons Independent Political Adviser, attempts to hide his face. And well he might.

A member of the public, who had not breached the constitution was not allowed to return to a public meeting without reason. Is this democracy in action, or the work of a dictatorship? Again, what are Mayor Mallon and his Labour chums afraid of showing the public? I think this third film shows exactly what the public don’t wish to see.

As I write this, I’m also attempting to download my own footage (fourth time lucky, hopefully!) It’s a full 30 minutes long and, just as these films have been, it will be uploaded unedited and in its entirety . I’ll warn you now, it’s pretty boring stuff on the whole, lots of standing / sitting around, interaction with town hall door staff, the police, certain councillors and views of who goes where, speaks to whom and when which, hopefully, will shed more light on how the events of Wednesday night transpired.

It has been suggested by one left-wing activist on twitter that it would be wrong for the public to film council meetings then go away and edit it to their own agenda. Then he watched the first one and suggested that it wasn’t interesting. You can’t have it both ways. Either you get it in all its wretched glory or you get edited highlights!

Early this morning, shortly after it was posted on the Gazette Online website, I posted a lengthy correction to their version of events at the Middlesbrough Council AGM. Across the day, I’ve checked back in, keen to see how my comment was received by the readership. At the time of writing, 11.25pm, the article has been “Thumbed up” 100 times and “Thumbed down” 23 times. That works out at around 78% of those that have taken time to read the comment and offer a simple indication of approval or disapproval, have shown approval of the comment for whatever reason. It has remained around the 78% mark each time that I’ve looked in during the day. I know it’s only a very small sample of opinion in a restricted source but, hey, 78% is more approval than Mayor Mallon or Labour have had in any election for a very long time. Maybe, given that sort of public approval, it’s time our council held a full debate, not just amongst themselves, but with members of the public too, to explore whether they are actually delivering the level of openness, public accountability and transparency that is expected of them.

cllr Bob Kerr, in his interview with the Northern Echo, described the council constitution as a ‘live document’. I understand that the inference of this is that the constitution can be reviewed and modernised to move with the times. Given the amount of support that I’ve received over the last 24 hours, maybe now, along with a new Chair of the council, it is time to adopt a new approach to public interaction and accessibility.

‘Sunlight Is the Best Disinfectant’

Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” a well-known quote from U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, refers to the benefits of openness and transparency. I invoke this quote often as executive director of the NYSSCPA, to illustrate that the most credible and respected organizations operate in an atmosphere of avowed openness. We should not only accept criticism and suggestions, we should embrace them. If questions from constituents, the public, or the media make leaders or other responsible parties obfuscate, the questions are usually valid and the answers are not. People who feel uncomfortable under the bright light of scrutiny and criticism often have something to hide.

Louis Grumet,

Executive Director, NYSSCPA.