This week with Brian 15 to 22 June 2023

Further Afield the week according to Brian Quinn

This Week with Brian

Including a pre-condition, no elopement yet, an unreliable witness, a damning report, a dishonourable spat, the Eye’s view, an eighteenth-century precedent, the Chiltern Hundreds, a four-time leader, storming the citadel, treble trouble, a thousand places short, trust and understanding, scrutiny, a new splash, unpicking the plan, platypuses at war, 88 swimming pools, lots of daylight, two ladies and take me to the river.

Click on the appropriate buttons to the right to see the local news from your area (updated every Thursday evening).

If there’s anything you’d like to see covered for your area or anything that you’d like to add to something that we’ve covered already, drop me a line at brian@pennypost.org.uk

Further afield

• A rather anxious hour was spent the other morning trying to get in touch with our youngest son who’s studying at Nottingham University. Our deepest sympathies to the friends and families of the victims. At the time of writing it’s unclear what drove the murderer to do this, mental instability and racial and/or religious fundamentalism both having been suggested. Personally, I can see little difference between these motivations; indeed, the former seems to be a necessary pre-condition for the latter.

[more below] 

• When I read last week that first Boris Johnson and then Nadine Dorries had announced their intention to resign as MPs, my first thought was that they were planning to elope. After all, she is clearly besotted with him. But then there was another MP called Nigel Adams, of whom I’d never heard, who’d thrown in the towel as well. What was his role going to be? The best man?

• We now know that Johnson’s hasty departure was in fact running away from the consequences of the partygate report, published on 15 June, which the BBC called “unflinching, unsparing and devastating” for Johnson. Even a brief glance at the document supports this verdict.

It’s not great for him from P1 but it’s from page 62 that the committee members really lose their temper with him, in a section entitled “Mr Johnson’s resignation as an MP and his attack upon the Committee”. Phrases such as “insincere attempts to distance himself from a campaign of abuse on the Committee,” “egregious breach of confidentiality,” “incorrect assertions,” and a “cynical attempt to manipulate Member and public opinion” build up a picture of a petulant, manipulative and untrustworthy witness. These culminate in clause 229:

“Our final conclusion is in relation to sanction. Although Mr Johnson’s resignation as an MP renders it impossible for a sanction of suspension to be imposed, we draw attention to the fact that before the events of Friday 9 June we had provisionally agreed to recommend a suspension long enough to engage the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act. In the light of Mr Johnson’s further contempts, we put on record that if he had not resigned his seat, we would have recommended that he be suspended from the service of the House for 90 days for repeated contempts and for seeking to undermine the parliamentary process, by:

  • Deliberately misleading the House
  • Deliberately misleading the Committee
  • Breaching confidence
  • Impugning the Committee and thereby undermining the democratic process of the House
  • Being complicit in the campaign of abuse and attempted intimidation of the Committee.

“In view of the fact that Mr Johnson is no longer a Member, we recommend that he should not be granted a former Member’s pass.”

The Committee has made its report but it’s up to the Commons to approve it. The PM must be dreading this as his predecessor still has plenty of supporters. Their loyalty to BoJo is perhaps stronger than to their party, to parliament or to the country.

Indeed, the war has already started: “spiteful, vindictive and overreaching” is Bassetlaw MP Brendon Clarke-Smith’s verdict on the report, alongside an image with the strapline “I’m backing Boris,” as if the clock had wound back a year and we were having another leadership battle. Johnson himself has described the report as “rubbish”, “a lie” and “a charade” and the committee as “deranged” and “beneath contempt”, and accused committee members of waging a vendetta against him. If you have a Conservative MP representing you, it would be worth asking them where they stand on this issue.

• This is all part of an interlocking car-crash of events which involves BoJo’s defenestration last year, the latest wave of the partygate scandal and – most immediately – his resignation honours list. It seems that the House of Lords Appointments Commission (HOLAC) blocked several of BoJo’s nominations for honours, including NaDo, Nigel Adams and Alok Sharma. It further appeared that Johnson asked the PM to ask (tell) HOLAC to review this and he refused. That’s Sunak’s version, anyway. Boris, needless to say, has a different one.

Sunak, meanwhile, is being accused of being weak for allowing any of Johnson’s resignation honours nominees through the net at all. He claimed in PMQs on 14 June there was was a “long-established convention of previous PMs having the ability to submit honours.” The key phrase is “having the ability”. The first such honours list was submitted by Lord Rosebery in 1895. There have been 26 PMs since him but only 13 others submitted a list. The last three Labour PMs were not among them. Some, including Harold Wilson’s in 1976, attracted particular criticism. HOLAC itself was only created in 2000.

As regards this being a “convention”, Sunak is therefore sort of right but it’s not one that’s particularly well established. There’s nothing to say that a standing PM can’t veto an appointment, nor anything to say that an outgoing PM has to offer a list. Like so much in our tangled unwritten constitution, the whole rather sordid business is fuelled by a mixture of inertia, cronyism and self-interest.

Who, then, are these people? Gov.uk’s official list can be seen here. “The King has been graciously pleased to signify His intention of conferring Honours, and Peerages of the United Kingdom for Life…” the preamble explains; although whether graciousness or pleasure attended the royal approval of all the nominees can only be guessed at.

Private Eye offers a more robust assessment: “It’s customary for the Eye to point out some of the cronyism and more underserving recipients of higher honours,” the first article of issue 1600 kicks off. “But with Boris Johnson’s resignation list it would be easier to identify those who did not fall into this category.” The article goes on to point out that of the 38 honours (excluding peerages), 32 were for “political and public services.” I shall refrain from any further summary but urge you to study this list, and the “Order of the Boris Brown Nose” article on p13, to judge for yourself.

One of the beneficiaries of BoJo’s largesse was Jacob Rees-Mogg, aka the Honourable Member for the Eighteenth Century, who’s now a knight. He was reported by the Evening Standard on 11 June as saying that there would be “civil war” in the Conservative party if anyone tried to block Johnson from seeking another parliamentary seat in the future. How would he describe what’s going on at the moment? Does he mean it could get even worse?

• Despite the proposed removal of a Commons Pass, the former PM still has a number of post-PM perks. These include membership of the largely ceremonial Privy Council, to which all cabinet ministers, including prime ministers, are appointed for life. “The only prime minister to have been removed from the list of privy councillors,” the BBC article explains, “was short-lived premier William Cavendish, who was struck off by King George III in 1762 when he suspected him of plotting against him.” Some might argue that his behaviour towards the Privileges Committee constitutes plotting. Perhaps the Honourable Member for the Eighteenth Century might have a view on this eighteenth-century incident.

• One item on Sunak’s agenda that he could have done without will be fighting two by-elections, and possibly three. The uncertainty is that NaDo has yet to formally to announce her departure by applying for the Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds or whatever one has to do in such cases. She now claims that “sinister forces” denied her a seat in the Lords and that she will not resign until she’s told why this happened. What has made her feel that she is so entitled to this position? You couldn’t make it up.

• At least BoJo has only been complicit in a campaign of abuse, tried to undermine the committee and misled parliament. It’s not as if he was involved in stirring up an attempt to storm it during a major national event. Former PotUS and declared Republican candidate Donald Trump is also facing 37 charges of keeping classified files, all of which he denies. There are a number of defences he could use, all of which could prolong matters into the 2024 campaign. Given the way his supporters regard his victimisation as being proof positive of his innocence, this may be no bad thing for his election chances.

• And then there’s Italy’s Berlusconi, who, despite now being dead, seems to have no less strong a grip on his supporters than do either of the two mendacious blondies mentioned above. The four-time leader – the other two will be noting this figure, having so far only had one term each – was accorded a state funeral, a decision for which the government has attracted some flack. It would probably have done so if it hadn’t.

• Just to take these three examples – and there are plenty of others from elsewhere – how come we are still so entranced by the priapic big man? The alpha male is the dominant figure of many dramas, whether in history books or filmed by David Attenborough. Perhaps other types of people, male or female, can enthuse us but, at times of crisis, the reptilian part of our brain kicks in and goes for the big beast. Between them, these three have at least 18 children. Their genes are not therefore going away.

• As mentioned above, Sunak may have an unwelcome treble of by-elections on his hands soon. A treble of a different kind was won by Manchester City last weekend. For those of you unfamiliar with the beautiful game, this involves winning the national league, the national cup and the Champions League in the same season. Only seven other clubs, including Celtic and Manchester United, have ever done this. It’s a remarkable achievement. The team should be praised as indisputably the best in the continent and probably the world, as should the manager Pep Guardiola (who also won the treble while manager of Barcelona in 2008-09).

Opinion differs, however, as to whether the same accolades should be paid to the club. Sheikh Mansour’s takeover in 2008 was one of the reasons for the introduction of the Financial Fair Play regulations in 2010 which sought to establish a maximum level of transfer activity based on the club’s actual income to prevent rich owners from buying success.

One ambiguity, which has resulted in legal cases and fines on three occasions since, concerns sponsorship deals. The accusation here is that Man City, and other clubs, have received such income at inflated rates and from organisations which are less than arms-length from the club’s owners. Some massive fines were dished out in 2014. In 2020, Man City were banned from European competition for two years though this was overturned (on largely technical grounds) on appeal. A fresh wave of charges was brought, by the FA, in February 2023. All of these accusations Man City has denied. It will probably take years before anything is decided.

• There are two issues at work here. One is the desire for there to be a level playing field for sporting competition. The latter has never happened. A glance at the winners of the cricket or football championships in England show shifting periods of dominance which is only slightly more evident now. In the pre-money age, the first five European Cups were won by Real Madrid. Most of the big prizes have been won by big clubs from big cities. A few clubs – such as Sussex, Montpellier, Twente, Wolfsburg, Durham and Leicester City – have bucked this trend. Then again, these things have to be quite rare if they’re going to be magical, don’t they?

• The other issue, which is more serious, is the issue of sportswashing, which I mentioned last week with regard to golf. It all depends on what we mean by the word. If it’s disagreeing with the Gulf states’ views on certain matters then we can, if we wish, not support the clubs they own and not subscribe to any media channels that they might benefit from. If, however, we’re still going to use oil-fired boilers or petrol-dreiven cars, then we’re contributing more to this region than we can ever recoup by sporting boycotts. That, after all, is where the money comes from to buy all these clubs.

• One of the things that councils need to do is ensure that there are enough school places for the district’s children. I can see that this can’t be easy as families have the annoying habit of moving into and out of an area without asking the council’s permission. Some miscalculations do as a result occur: but surely few get it as badly wrong as Renfrewshire in Scotland which has recently been forced to concede that its estimates of school places in Bishopton might be short by as many as 1,000. Local residents claim that they’ve been pointing out for years that the new school there was far too small given the amount of development. It seems incredible that such an oversight could happen, but happened it has. What’s more, it could happen anywhere…

Across the area

• Trust and understanding

The partygate report (see above) is just one enquiry that is currently trying to shed some light into the dark corners of the pandemic. A far bigger one – certainly in terms of timescale, if not political consequences – is the Coronavirus Public Inquiry. This has recently lumbered into action and is expected to last at least two years. The first sessions involve a lot of scene-setting and included Robin Allen KC, representing local government in Wales, observing on day one that one of the problems was that central government had a “lack of trust” in local authorities.

This is certainly my impression and one not restricted to Wales, nor to the Covid response. However, I’ve never worked for or been elected to a council so I thought I’d ask someone who had. Who better, I reasoned, than Lynne Doherty who was the Leader of WBC from 2019 to 2023. Local politicians on all sides, even during the bun-fight of the election, praised the work she did to help the district through the pandemic. The point that lay behind Robin Allen’s remark was that it took a long time for the government to give councils any serious powers. I asked her if this was, as the KC suggested, down to distrust.

“I think it was not so much a lack of trust as a lack of understanding, or perhaps a reluctance to relinquish control” she told me. “We were regularly invited to calls with ministers and their teams. They recognised they would need our help but, at first, these sessions were more about telling us. However, in time they understood we were often better placed to do and our feedback was acted on.”

Those early calls must have been very frustrating for the local authorities. Test and trace was the classic instance of this, with local councils not becoming properly involved in the work until late 2020. “A good example,” Lynne Doherty agreed. “I am sure you can remember this was originally to be a centrally-run initiative but it became apparent very early on that residents had a better connection with their local councils. I think the government was slow to realise this. Of course,” she added, “hindsight is a wonderful thing. When we were all actually living through this there were so many unknowns and uncertainties that it was not as easy as some are now trying to make out.”

A fair comment: however, it’s clear that in this instance the local view was correct, a fact that Whitehall might have clocked more quickly. Certainly many of us would like to revisit decisions we’ve made. The point of the enquiry is (hopefully) not to berate decision-makers for anything that went wrong, but rather to establish if – knowing what they then knew rather than what we now know – they should have done anything differently.

There are a huge number of such questions including regarding lockdown arrangements (including their enforcement), the policy towards care homes, the roll-out of the app, PPE contracts and vaccines. The relationship between central government and local councils should also find a place. This will all be vital for when – not if – another pandemic appears. Let’s hope that the enquiry is done and the lessons absorbed before that happens.

• The first scrutiny

The first meeting of WBC’s Scrutiny and Oversight Committee since the election will take place on Tuesday 20 June at 6.30pm. Click here for details of the agenda and the link to the livestream broadcast.

It can be compared, at a local level, to one of the House of Commons Select Committees which exist to hold the administration of the day to account. As recent events have shown, this is a necessary task. The fact that WBC’s Scrutiny Committee is unlikely to produce the kind of fireworks the the Common’s Privileges Committee recently did should not detract from its importance and the nature of its work. This is summarised by WBC as follows:

“The Scrutiny Commission is responsible for reviewing the decisions, policies and services of West Berkshire Council and, in some cases, those of other organisations and partners to improve the lives of local people. In particular, the Commission acts as the Council’s Crime and Disorder Committee. It is not responsible for scrutiny of health services – this function is undertaken by West Berkshire Council’s Health Scrutiny Committee and by relevant Joint Health Scrutiny Committees where matters affect patient flows across local authority boundaries.

“The Commission is made up of nine Members, reflecting the political composition of the local authority. Members of the Executive cannot be members of the Scrutiny Commission.

“The Scrutiny Commission usually meets four times per year, but additional meetings may be required to consider requests to call in decisions that have been made by the Executive but not yet implemented. Topics may be considered at a full meeting of the Scrutiny Commission, or delegated to a standing sub-committee or a time-limited task and finish group, with findings reported back to the Scrutiny Commission.

“Scrutiny is not able to review or scrutinise decisions taken by Council, Planning Committees, Licensing Committees, Licensing Sub-Committees or Education Appeals.”

For the first time for many years, the Chair will not be a member of the administration but an opposition member: not a Conservative, the main opposition party, but Carolyne Culver of the Green Party.

As mentioned previously, this is a wise move by the new administration as a number of the matters being looked at will inevitably date back to the time of the last administration and, as time goes by, will include issues which both the previous and the current administration have been involved. Not being a member of either, Carolyne Culver will be able to demonstrate both the perception and, I’m sure, the reality of complete impartiality. This should reduce the chances of its findings being branded “rubbish”, “a lie” and “a charade”, “deranged” or “beneath contempt”: as has recently happened elsewhere. Now is an excellent moment for local councils to set Westminster a good example…

• A new splash

West Berkshire Council has appointed Everyone Active as the new leisure management operator to manage the leisure facilities across the district. From 1 July 2023, Everyone Active (EA) will begin a 10-year contract run Northcroft Leisure Centre and Lido, Hungerford Leisure Centre, Kennet Leisure Centre, Cotswold Sports Centre, Willink Leisure Centre, Lambourn Sports Centre and the Downland Sports Centre.

“The new contract will have a strong focus on community outreach,” a statement from WBC says, “providing a variety of creative and physical activities in local venues such as community halls, churches, centres and outdoor locations to increase accessibility.

“We are delighted to officially begin our partnership with West Berkshire Council and are looking forward to many successful years ahead,” Steve Salwa, Area Contract Manager at Everyone Active said.  “The sports and leisure centres within this contract are so important for the health and wellbeing of the local communities and we look forward to supporting the council’s vision for leisure across West Berkshire. We would like to reassure existing customers that all memberships, classes, lessons and club bookings will carry over and continue as normal during the transition.” I understand (and hope) that this will also include that any direct debits are seamlessly transferred across from Parkwood Leisure to EA.

“The contract is the start of a very exciting period for leisure in West Berkshire,” Janine Lewis, West Berkshire’s Executive Member for Culture, Leisure, Sport and Countryside added. “Increasing participation in active leisure for all, especially those currently less active, is a key focus of our new leisure strategy. We are delighted to be working with EA. Our centres are about so much more than leisure activities. They are community hubs where people can socialise while keeping active and well.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank our current provider, Parkwood Leisure, for their hard work over the last 19 years and their excellent contribution to improving health and wellbeing across the district.”

All the staff will be transferring over so there will still be the same friendly and familiar faces at Hungerford (which I use) and elsewhere. One thing that the new management might want to look at is the website. Certainly as regards pool sessions in Hungerford, the online information doesn’t always accord with reality and it seems the staff don’t have as much control over the content as they should. This may also be an issue elsewhere. If you have any suggestions of your own then let your local centre know.

• Unpicking the plan

One of the main planks of the Lib Dem’s successful campaign in West Berkshire in May was to review the allocation for at least 1,500 homes to the north east of Thatcham (THA20). The draft local plan, which included this allocation, was submitted to the Planning Inspectorate just before the election. I shall say no more about the timing of this submission except that it could perhaps be described by the new administration as unhelpful: it now wants to review the local plan, which would be easier were it not to have been submitted by the previous adminstration. An analogy might be erroneously submitting a university dissertation and realising that you need to re-write part of it. Can you get it returned to do this? This is what WBC is trying to establish.

To continue the analogy, the examiners’ concern is that, by making the desired alterations, the whole thing might need re-writing which could take months or, as we’re dealing here with a local plan, years. They may decide that this is too big a risk and will prolong the process to an unacceptable extent. The Vice Chancellor (the Secretary of State in this case) might also get involved, as happened with South Oxfordshire in fairly similar circumstances in 2019, and insist that what has been handed in will be what will be marked, never mind that an election has just been fought and won partly on the platform of changing it. All in all, it remains uncertain what will happen and how long this will take to resolve itself.

Two things have happened recently. The first is that the Planning Inspectorate has sent WBC 49 questions, which you can read here, “to provide clarity and potentially narrow down the focus of the examination.” These need to be responded to by 23 June. The second is that the Inspectorate has indicated that it is in the circumstances prepared to allow a one-or two-month pause to allow the new administration to assess all its options. The examination was due to start in September, so I presume that this means this will not now happen until October or November.

A member of the new Executive told me on 15 June that the administration remains committed to having a local plan but equally committed to changing the site allocation, as mentioned in its manifesto. Advice is being taken from a range of sources, internal and external. Residents of Thatcham, Bucklebury, Cold Ash and Midgham in particular will be watching developments with interest as what is eventually decided could have a permanent effect on their communities.

• News from your local councils

Most of the councils in the area we cover are single-tier with one municipal authority. The arrangements in Oxfordshire are different, with a County Council which is sub-divided into six district councils, of which the Vale of White Horse is one. In these two-tier authorities, the county and district will have different responsibilities. In all cases, parish and town councils provide the first and most immediately accessible tier of local government.

West Berkshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to sign up to all or any of the wide range of  newsletters produced by West Berkshire Council.

Click here to see the latest West Berkshire Council Residents’ Bulletin (generally produced every week).

Click here for the latest news from West Berkshire Council.

Vale of White Horse Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by the Vale Council.

Click here for latest news from the Vale Council.

Click here for the South and Vale Business Support Newsletter archive (newsletters are generally produced each week).

Click here to sign up to any of the newsletters produced by the Vale’s parent authority, Oxfordshire County Council.

Wiltshire Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Wiltshire Council.

Click here for the latest news from Wiltshire Council.

Swindon Council

Click here for details of all current consultations being run by Swindon Council.

Click here for the latest news from Swindon Council.

Parish and town councils

• Please see the News from your local council section in the respective weekly news columns (these also contain a wide range of other news stories and information on activities, events and local appeals and campaigns): Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area

• Other news

West Berkshire Libraries will be challenging primary age children to read up to six library books in the Summer Reading Challenge between 1 July and 15 September and to collect free incentives from their local library for their achievements as they read, with medals and certificates for everyone who completes the challenge. More details here.

• West Berkshire Council’s Procurement and Economy team will be hosting the 2023 West Berkshire Council Supplier Fair at Shaw House in Newbury RG14 2DR on Tuesday 13 June from 9.30am to 4pm. Attending these face-to-face events is an effective way to meet key buyers, learn about the latest opportunities and gain an insight into the procurement process.  Click here for more information and to register

• West Berkshire Council is planning to invest an additional £1.9m on ahousing scheme for displaced people to help provide an additional ten homes. More details here.

• Good news for bus passengers: fares have for some time been capped andthe government has this week announcedthat the scheme will be extended.

• West Berkshire Council has been allocated £275,000 of funding to provide a new school streets scheme and develop improvements to walking and cycling routes. It is part of the council’s “ongoing commitment to boost active travel options for residents whilst also helping to drive down carbon emissions.” More details here.

Click here for information about help available with the cost of living crisis in West Berkshire, the Vale and Wiltshire.

Please click here for information about what local councils are doing to help support refugees from Ukraine and how you can help.

Click here for a post listing the various places which are offering a takeaway and/or delivery service. If you are aware of any others, let us know.

• The animals of the week are these platypuses (had to check the spelling of that) doing what platypuses (there’s that word again) apparently aren’t often seen doing: fighting like a pair of…well, platypuses.

• The letters section of the Newbury Weekly News includes, as well as ones referred to elsewhere, communications on the subjects of the sports hub, climate change, pronouncing the county, water leaks and good riddance.

• A number of good causes have received valuable support recently: see the various news area sections (links above) for further details.

The quiz, the sketch and the song

• So it’s the Song of the Week. Here are the Talking Heads and their version of Al Green’s Take Me to the River.

• Which leads us to the Comedy Moment of the Week. French and Saunders were always very good: still are, come to that. Here they are as two hearty and cantankerous no-nonsense county dames: Two Ladies.

• And so, finally, the Quiz Question of the Week. This week’s question is: The summer solstice (21 June) is almost upon us. How many hours of daylight will there be that day in London?  Last week’s question was: Roughly how many Olympic swimming pools-worth of water does the river Amazon discharge into the Atlantic every second? The mighty Amazon discharges 220,000 cubic metres of water a second and an Olympic pool os 2,500 cubic metres: so that’s 88 Olympic pools-worth of H20.

For weekly news sections for Hungerford areaLambourn Valley; Marlborough area; Newbury area; Thatcham area; Compton and Downlands; Burghfield area; Wantage area  please click on the appropriate link.

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
Email
Print

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up to the free weekly

Penny Post
e-newsletter 

 

For: local positive news, events, jobs, recipes, special offers, recommendations & more.

Covering: Newbury, Thatcham, Hungerford, Marlborough, Wantage, Lambourn, Compton, Swindon & Theale