Ambulance-chasing, Colin Rosentiel, the Standards Board, and our loss of civic pride

Some may feel I’m asking for trouble by highlighting for a second day running the case of Colin Rosentiel, the Lib Dem Cambridge city councillor who allegedly blocked an ambulance on an emergency call to protect some common land. But, having reported the story here yesterday, it prompts a wider question than the rights and wrongs of an individual councillor.

A couple of folk linked in the comments thread to the report of Cambridge city council’s monitoring officer to its standards committee – you can read it in full here. And I mean in full – it’s 137 pages long. This includes a 13-page report from the Ethical Standards Officer for the Standards Board of England.

At the risk of coming over all Daily Mail, is this really time and tax-payers’ money well spent? If Councillor Rosentiel committed a criminal offence by blocking an emergency vehicle, then that’s a matter for the police. If he behaved stupidly and irresponsibly, then that’s a matter for his electorate rather than a jumped-up quango.

Actually the point was made very well by both Paul Waugh and Iain Dale yesterday in the context of Labour MP Ann Keen, successfully sued by a constituent for alleged “laziness”. Paul wrote about the case:

Regardless of the rights or wrongs of this particular case, why on earth is litigation seen as the answer when a constituent feels their MPs is not effectively representing them? It sadly smacks of the wider American trend towards reaching for the law whenever a problem arises. More importantly, as John Spellar put it today, surely the real accountability for an MP lies with the ballot box and not the courts? I cannot imagine why the county court in this case actually found in favour of the complainant. Mr John Taylor may or may not have a point about Mrs Keen being “lazy” (though she denies it and points out she tried to help him). But his best recourse is to turf her out at the next general election.

Iain quotes him approvingly, and then asks plaintively:

… if this court case is seen as a precedent, it begs the question as to why on earth anyone would ever put themselves forward for Parliament again.

Quite: I don’t disagree with either of them. Yet there’s no shortage of folk putting themselves forward to be selected as MPs – all parties, though, find it a challenge to find sufficient good quality candidates to contest all council seats. And part of the reason for that is that the role of local councillor, and the powers they exercise on behalf of local residents, have been so devalued by successive Labour/Tory governments. That the Standards Board of England exists at all, and is able to sit in judgment on elected councillors, is merely another depressing symptom of our loss of civic pride.

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  • What worries me is the virulent and extreme comment this and other stories about Lib Dems seems to generate. The guy is clearly an idiot, but I don’t remember Anthony Steen’s equally daft act causing the same level of hate against Tories.

    A former Association president likened some of the anti –Lib Dem comments on Iain Dale’s site (but not any comments by Iain himself) as reminiscent of the Nazis. An easy insult to throw around you might say, except George is a highly decorated former spitfire pilot (111 Squadron), and an eyewitness to the Nazis in their early years, having been in Germany in 1935.

  • Of course Iain Dale et al, have been cheering on other people who block the path of ambulances, and ram a hospital ship with medical supplies and medical staff in international waters. If only the councillor had been a IDF soldier.

  • And then dilke makes a twit of himself.

    Only a barrel scraping very poor magician could drag the conflict in the Middle East into the matter of someone who chose to stand before an ambulance and then further chose to lie about what he had done.

    Your distraction tactic: “And you will notice I have nothing in my right hand” is, as I say, barrel scraping.

    It takes a special kind of person to make light of the situation in Palestine/Israel in a ham-fisted way to defend the rather silly antics of someone who chose to block the path of a paramedic. There job is hard enough without a councillor acting in such a way.

    I do not think your behaviour is acceptable.

  • Yet there’s no reluctance on the part of a couple of particularly nasty and vindictive local(ish) Lib Dem Cllrs I am aware of who are using the Standards Board to victimize a former Lib Dem Cllr who left the Party and is now a Liberal. Consequently an electoral threat that must be crushed. Cue a string of vexatious complaints to the standards board about a string of trivial misdemeanours that has nearly caused a nervous breakdown.

    Any coincidence that both Lib Dems are both up for re-election and both fear Liberals splitting the vote.

  • Matt, I’m pointing out the double standards; not defending this man’s actions,nor making light of the situation in the Middle East.

    The people crowing about a councillor making a silly mistake in stopping a single ambulance are the same people giving uncritical support to the IDF. Don’t see anything Iain’s site about the Devon doctor nearly killed when a hospital ship carrying medical supplies and volunteer medics from Europe, was rammed in international waters.

  • And despite their policy of opposition to the SBfE there’s no reluctance on the part of Con Libs to victimize a Lib Dem Councillor, by making a vexatious complaint against him.

  • Matthew Huntbach 6th Feb '09 - 9:46am

    It is surely an important constitutional matter that courts should not be able to intervene to tell MPs how they should work their jobs.

    So far as I am aware, pursuing casework is an entirely voluntary aspect of being an MP. If MPs decide not to work on that to give them more time to scrutinise legislation or something else, we must surely have a safeguard to protect them in making this decision. It should then be up to the electorate when it comes to re-election whether to agree with whatever decision they take.

    If this case were to succeed whatever would we get next? MPs being sued because they missed particular votes? As this is surely a more central part of the role of an MP, missing it is surely more a dereliction of duty than not pursuing casework.

    I rather feel the MP for West Belfast, for example, could be sued for gross derelection of duty, but I feel it is up to his electorate to decide whether they support the position he has taken on this.

    Might we next move to MPs being sued because they were elected with a particular party label, but decided to vote against the party whip on some issue? If it is the “duty” of an MP to pursue casework, then might it not be argued that it is also a “duty” to follow the line indicated by the party symbol on the ballot paper?

  • Ann Keen wasn’t successfully sued. AIUI she didn’t file a defence so judgement was awarded against her in default.

  • Dr. Prometheus 6th Feb '09 - 10:51am

    [Comment moderated. Please note that unsubstantiated and potentially libellous comments will be deleted. Stephen Tall, Editor-at-Large, Liberal Democrat Voice.]

  • [Comment deleted as it referred (critically, I should add) to the above comment. Stephen Tall, Editor-at-Large, Liberal Democrat Voice.]

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