Sunday, 9 May 2010

Where Next For 'Parking Bay Gate'?

Now that Newham's imperious Mayor has secured a comfortable win and there is an absolute majority for Labour on the council, it will be interesting to see whether Sir Robin Wales - a man notorious for his political vengefulness - will pursue threatened legal action against mayoral opponent Alan Craig over campaign material issued during the election.

The row centres on a advert by the Christian People's Alliance (right), which alleges that a parking space reserved for disabled drivers had been designated for the Mayor because it was closest to the lifts and stairs to the offices in the council's new building, Newham Dockside. The photo used in the advert seems to back up this claim and the issue has been presented as a metaphor for the way that Sir Robin Wales runs the council.

Alan Craig reported on his blog on 26 April that the Mayor had instructed his solicitors to issue a threat of legal action. A letter to the Christian People's Alliance (CPA) said, “it will be understood by those reading (the leaflet) that the Mayor has put his own interests above those of disabled drivers and (it) makes derogatory comments on the Mayor’s motives and values... (It) will undoubtedly cause serious and ongoing damage to the Mayor’s reputation, feelings and chances of re-election.”

The letter went on to make eleven demands, including the disclosure of all the names and addresses that CPA leaflets had been distributed to, the publication of a full apology, the payment of the Mayor's legal expenses and the donation of £5,000 to a charity of his choice.

In the Newham Recorder on 28 April, the Mayor denied any involvement in re-designating the parking bay and added:


"I am offended by this allegation. A lot of claims are made in politics and you have to develop a thick skin. However, the Alliance leaflet is beyond the pale and untrue. They are playing politics with disability and that is shameful."

Craig rightly points out, however, that the advert had also been included in a council booklet sent to every voter in Newham and had therefore been approved by the council’s Chief Executive, Returning Officer and Head of Legal Services. Approval is not automatic - over in Hackney, Conservative candidate Andrew Boff is hopping mad that his election address was excluded from the borough's mayoral booklet because of his reference to the salaries of Hackney's mayor and cabinet.

Had Alan Craig been elected, I suspect that Newham Labour would have gleefully reported him to the Standards Board for a breach of the code of conduct on treating others with respect. However, the CPA lost all its council seats on 6 May and that opportunity for revenge is unavailable.

Perhaps the wipe-out of the CPA will seem like punishment enough - but I wouldn't put it past the Great Helmsman to vindictively continue with legal action if his demand for the repayment of his legal fees and a public apology are not forthcoming.

POSTSCRIPT:

Private Eye reports that mayoral candidate Andrew Boff called Hackney council himself, after hearing that the voters who phoned the to check whether he was standing were told, wrongly, that he was not.

Without giving his name, Boff recorded a conversation with an unnamed council worker who clearly said – after checking with the council’s elections office – that "He’s not [a candidate] because he didn’t submit valid paperwork on time".

Now the council has threatened legal action against community newspaper the Hackney Citizen for including an audioclip of this conversation on its website. You can listen to the recording here.

1 Comment:

Mike Law said...

The following is a comment made by Martin Warne on Newham's e-democracy forum:

"In my original post at the start of this topic I said, "One positive thing: the
picture in Alan Craig's section of the mayor's parking space at Building 1000
will probably cause Wales a great deal of embarrassment - and rightly so."

It appears I was correct. Alan Craig says in his blog that he has received a
letter from Sir Robin's solicitor about the use of the same picture in a CPA
election leaflet: “It will be understood by those reading (the leaflet) that
the Mayor has put his own interests above those of disabled drivers and (it)
makes derogatory comments on the Mayor’s motives and values,” said the
solicitor’s letter. “(It) will undoubtedly cause serious and ongoing damage to
the Mayor’s reputation, feelings and chances of re-election.”

The letter goes on the demand "the disclosure of all the names and addresses to
which the leaflets have been distributed; the publication of a full apology;
the payment of Sir Robin’s legal expenses; and the donation of £5,000 to a
charity of his choice."

Oddly, the mayor's lawyers omit to make mention of the picture's use in the
Borough's own official mayoral election booklet. Perhaps that's because the
Borough's returning officer and legal advisor both approved it for accuracy and
fair comment before it went to press.

The CPA have told Sir Robin to get lost, in more Christian terms than than the
famous response in Arkell vs. Pressdram (http://bit.ly/9HDUDj), but to largely
the same effect.

Alan Craig's full blog post, including a copy of the photo in question, is
here: http://www.alansangle.com/?p=450
"

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