Introducing Two Face
One of the better-known antagonists of fictional comic book and action movie crime-fighter Batman is called Tw0-Face. Once a District Attorney named Harvey Dent, Two Face’s schtick is that (as well as being utterly barking mad and a homicidal psychopath) he makes all his key decisions by flipping a coin. It’s a fun character as a bad guy because he’s both utterly bonkers and utterly unpredictable. But it’s more complex than that. Two Face has two sides to his psyche as well, one being the horribly scarred villain, the other being the slightly-less-crazy and slightly-less-unreasonable Harvey Dent. The two sides are constantly warring with one another for control, but more often than not the dark side wins because it’s slightly more powerful.
Tomorrow’s County “Full Council” Meeting has an item on the agenda which is a harbinger. It’s a minor item, it won’t get much attention. They’ll squabble about it a bit, but due to the brooding disparate presence of the Rainbow Alliance (my name, not theirs) of Liberals, Labour, “Independents” and UKIP, it’ll almost certainly get pushed through. After all, these groups may agree on almost nothing else but there is one thing on which they are of one mind – they want to disempower and damage the Conservatives. Watch what happens though, if local politics interests you. It’s the Shape Of Things To Come.
This is the wording of the motion:-
This Council notes:
- The current procedure for Council press releases states that local members and/or opposition spokespeople may be quoted in Council press releases, but only at the discretion of the relevant portfolio holder
- The Council’s commitment to localised decision making
- The change in political make up of Council since the May 2013 elections means members represent a wider range of views than previously
This Council believes:
- The Council’s communications team is meant to work for the whole Council, not just the administration
- The current procedure gives undue weight to the Cabinet members, and therefore the minority administration’s, views
Therefore this Council calls on the Cabinet to:
- Remove the Cabinet member’s discretion in the current procedure and replace with:
- For any press release relating only to a specific division, the Communications team will contact the local member(s) for a quote to include
- For all other press releases, the Communications team will contact the opposition spokes for a quote to include
In each case the communications team will:
- give a minimum of 24 hours for the relevant member to supply a quote
- supply a draft of the press release to the member
Council acknowledges there will be occasional emergency cases where urgency means the above procedure may be impractical, and in these cases the Council communications team should include no political quotes.
Seems reasonable, huh? But think it through.
Local Members are often quoted in press releases and even if they didn’t make the “official” Press Release it’s very common for the Press to contact them directly anyway. It’s just as easy for them to contact the press themselves. I would delicately suggest that maybe the mention of Local Members might be there as window dressing to cover the actual motivations.
The line about removing the Cabinet Member’s discretion is key, of course. Because right now, the party “In Control” of the council have their cabinet members comment on Press Releases. This means that the group which is running the council are the group which tell the public what they are doing. I’m sure most rational people would see the common sense in that? Nobody is stopping the opposition going to the press themselves or suggesting they should not. The rule is there simply to avoid the sort of political shenanigans that opposition parties play being drawn into “official” Council press releases. For the sake of the Council’s sanity**, if you will.
You should be aware that the Press Releases do not “freeze out” the opposition. They always include the names and contact details of the relevant spokespeople for other parties so that the Press are able to get an alternative view if they want to. Although they might want to paint the situation as some kind of Cold War Info Freeze, that bears little resemblance to the truth.
I have no doubt that the Usual Suspects will love this Motion. They will tell you it is “more democratic” or some other silly yarn which ignores the actual purpose of the current rules in order to force through the changes the Motion suggests. I fully expect the Rainbow Coalition (my name, not theirs) will get their way on this, as on most issues from now on. But just think about where this goes. From now on it is possible that every “Official” Council Press release will include multiple comments, from multiple Spokespeople in multiple different parties, all disagreeing with one another.
In short, dear reader, you may read a Press Release which looks more like a multiple choice statement. Maybe it will go something like this:
The County Council have today decided to build a new river crossing. The Conservative Spokesperson says: “It’s great, we need this bridge to help people cross the river.” The Green Spokesperson* says: “Too much concrete is being used to make the bridge and it should be made entirely from sustainable hemp products.” The Liberal Democrat Spokesperson says: “There should also be a dedicated Cyclist Bridge alongside the main bridge.” The Labour Spokesperson says: “The Bridge will not be built unless the Council invests in Trade Union workers for the contract.” The Independent Spokesman says: “The Bridge may or may not be good, please let us know how you feel about it so that we can decide the most popular thing to say.” The UKIP spokeman says: “We hope immigrants will be charged a toll to cross the bridge and that only English tradesmen will be working on the project.”
Now, setting aside that fact that this is a pointless motion anyway because the forthcoming change to the Committee System will render it meaningless, I do have a solution. Instead of asking every single Spokesperson for a statement, why not just ask one? But choose a different party each time so that the whole thing doesn’t descend into a farce. Sure, it’ll still send out bizarrely mixed messages where the Council announces something and then seems to argue with itself about it***. But at least it wont be completely bizarre <ahem>.
So, how to decide which group gets to make a statement? Maybe some kind of coin flip is in order?
*Yes, I know, there’s no Green councillor on the County Council. But there might be in the future. Stranger things have happened. Stranger things are happening.
** Just imagine if this gets taken up at Fenland District Council. The opposition already seem to appear on every other page of certain local newspapers. With this increasing their coverage still more they might as well just present them with a weekly red book and say: “This Is Your Life.”
*** Thinking about FDC again, Imagine how confusing conflicting quotes from the Independent Group, the Truly Truly Independent Group, and the Really Truly Honestly Cross My Heart And Hope To Die Independent Group will get? The mind boggles.