Thursday, 10 February 2011

Councillor resigns under fire-storm

RBC Cabinet member, LibDem Cllr Warren Swaine, has resigned as the Lead Councillor for Environment and Sustainability. He will be replaced in this role by Cllr Kirsten Bayes.

Tory Cllr Richard Willis is saddened at the announcement, noting that the reasons were 'external' and reassures supporters that it was 'nothing to do with coalition relations' as their two parties continue to work constructively overcoming differences to make effective policy.

Former Labour representative Tony Jones leaks the decision (an act which raises questions it's own questions) of a recent RBC standards committee held on 2nd November:
"Councillor Swaine had breached the Members' Code of Conduct by virtue of his failure to treat others with respect and bringing the Council and his office into disrepute."
The move comes as opposition councillors were increasingly targetting Cllr Swaine as a weak link in the regime - so the storm is not immune from partisan motivations either. Cllr John Ennis recalls he 'advised' the noted local satirist that he should 'concentrate on representing the people of Reading.'

On 15th January Cllr Ennis accused him of 'fiddling while Rome burned' over recycling in the borough and engaging in 'yahboo politics at its' worst' by using social media to be 'rude and abusive' about Labour counterparts.

The announcement comes days after Cllr Swaine was involved in another controversy which played out during the weekly #bbcqt twitter debate, in which he was accused of racism (definition of muppet) against Labour high-flier and mooted future leadership candidate Chuka Umunna MP.

However Cllr Swaine points out the irony of this latest criticism and the politics behind it, explaining how he has also suffered from racial prejudice and that it plays into opposition fears stirred up around budget reductions faced by Reading's ethnic minorities support infrastructure:
"Labour's anti-racist credentials are flawed and self-serving. They don't give a toss for ethnic minorities unless they can deliver votes to the polling stations in taxis."
RCRE chairman, Rajinder Sophal (himself a former Labour Mayor of Reading), defended the accusation of racism against criticisms of political motivation, suggesting Cllr Swaine's Sri Lankan heritage was no defence, saying, "You don't need to be white to be a racist." A comment which cuts both ways, perhaps.

Meanwhile Labour activist Richard McKenzie argues against personal attacks as a way to cover up uncomfortable policy choices, suggesting the episode is a cautionary tale for local bloggers. Concluding that it is a 'disgrace' which will require Cllr Swaine to 'rebuild his tarnished reputation'.

And Jane Griffith's picks up on the words of the former representative known in private circles as 'Basher', suggesting he speaks with the voice of experience.


Update: Reading Post's comments (67 currently) show a spread of opinion towards Cllr Swaine and his accusers over the incident. You can join the debate to have your say.

Leading social media expert Neville Hobson publishes a timely exploration of how the medium of Twitter is affected by privacy laws.

After a complaint about a national newspaper publishing the tweets of an individual the PCC recently ruled that only direct messages and private accounts are covered by this law, so Cllr Swaine's boigraphical note that "They are my personal tweets. If you don't like them, no one forced you to read them." doesn't function as an effective disclaimer - they remain public property.

Oranjepan says:
Whatever the rights and wrongs of Cllr Swaine's actions and those of his detractors he ought to have adjusted the style of persona he wished to project to fit more closely with the position he filled within the administration. After all political leaders must work in coalition with humble service deliverers too and he should know coalition is about cooperation and compromise, not confrontation.


  1. Agree totally with your Oranjepan Says viewpoint, Oranjepan.

    As an aside, how can you be taken seriosly as a serious local commentator of politics when you hide behind the anonymity of Ornajepan?

  2. Thanks for dropping by, John.

    I'm flattered you take this site seriously enough to ask, it's an interesting issue and one which deserves a good answer. However it's worth pointing out that the question is not quite as clearcut as you imply, since there are also those who are dismissed precisely for who they are and what they are assumed to represent. The political arena is notorious for this, which may partly explain why politicians have such a low reputation.

    For me personally, relevance is more about the content of what a person writes than the name they write under - and writing pseudonymously doesn't stop columns like Bagehot or Lex from having a heavyweight impact!

    Overall I'd say the choice to write openly or 'hiding behind anonymity' depends upon what is hoped to be achieved.

    The small group of people responsible for this blog represent a balanced range of perspectives and are seeking to provide a service rather than build a platform for the promotion of a specific agenda, and we also monitor a wider range of local writers than anyone else in the area.

    We could not do this if we were directly associated with any single viewpoint. So the creation of a separate identity which can be used across online media is actually more appropriate, not less.


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