Tuesday’s Sandwell full council meeting was a time for reflection, even anxiety, as the council elections approach.
Council leader Eling, who on assuming leadership had promised to drain the Sandwell swamp of corruption, now, generally speaking through his toadies, was keen to point out to the electorate that really there was no swamp at all, just a tiny puddle of problems. A mere pothole in the broad highway of excellence and rectitude provided by Labour governance of Sandwell?
Gone was the caped crusader against sleaze to be replaced by a one eyed Nelson who, even with telescope applied to that blind eye, could see nothing wrong except a couple of individuals who had “done wrong”. Oh and a couple of M.P.’s who had “interfered”. One had even been crazy enough to suggest that Eling resign. What a cheek! After all, in some convoluted way, any corruption in Sandwell was the responsibility of M.P.’s and particularly someone called Pickles. It was all vintage Eling, including blaming everything on cuts, but much less convincing and more tentative than his usual performances. A mangy old moggie trying to play the lion.
The great leader, in what was clearly a pre-orchestrated manoeuvre unmuzzled the nodding dogs and made them bark to script, most reading carefully pre-prepared statements. It was a ballet in Doc Martens with three movements. The first to single out and put the boot in to individuals. The second to divert attention from problems in Sandwell by blaming Parliament for lack of sanctions against errant councillors. Finally and most importantly, for them, his stooges, one after another, were keen to reassure the electorate that it should have no concerns and, in May, should vote again for this motley crew.
Regrettably, it soon became apparent why Eling usually only asks Labour councillors to nod and beg. Cllr. David Hosell seemed on the verge of apoplexy, castigating M.P.’s who did not “get facts correct” and tarnished the council. Cllr. Peter Hughes, a little man with a large ego, quoted an American philosopher though it was unclear whether this was Donald Trump or Donald Duck and the portentous simply became the pompous. Cllr. Preece predicted Sandwell leading the country in the reform of local government. No forecast of plagues of frogs or boils from him. Failed “nite” club owner, Gavan threatened to speak Glaswegian. Bob Piper had to say something, but nothing of any substance.
Cllr. Paul Moore found it offensive that the actions of the council had been challenged in court, that a councillor had not attended his Standards hearing, (failing to point out that medical evidence showed his unfitness to do so) and that another had walked out, (neglecting to say because there had been some behind the scenes skulduggery).
Trow fulminated into his beard about “significant offences” “serious financial misconduct” and “leaking” to a local blogger. At this, the leader, considering his arrangement with Sandwell Skidder, Julian Saunders, might have fallen from his seat, but didn’t.
The point was being wilfully missed. A criticism is that the council disciplinary process in Sandwell has been highly selective in those it has proceeded against. A small hill has been swept under carpets and some who should have been brought before Standards have dodged the bullet. Nor have the proceedings always been as proper and as transparent as they ought to have been. Perhaps the difficulty lies in the assertion of its Chairman, Cllr. Geoff Lewis, that its hearings have nothing to do with “law”. Unbelievable.