Watford’s liberal Lib Dem Mayor – what Iain Dale didn’t report

Tory blogger Iain Dale should perhaps have paused before clicking ‘publish’ on his latest – highly inaccurate – post, How Very Illiberal of a LibDem Mayor. Those few seconds’ hesitation would have been sufficient for him to do a quick Google and find out what he was about to write was nonsense.

In his article, Iain recycled a Metro report to allege that Watford Borough Council (run by elected Lib Dem mayor Dorothy Thornhill) has “barred [parents] from public playgrounds in parks. Instead, they are forced to wait outside the railings whilst council-employed “play facilitators” assist the children.”

Iain describes the situation as “political correctness gone mad”. Which it would be. If it were at all true. But it’s not. It’s such an exaggeration of the truth as to be pretty much wholly untrue.

Here’s the categorical statement from Watford:

Contrary to reports in the media, Watford Borough Council has not banned parents from public parks and playgrounds in the town!

The press have inaccurately reported what Harwoods and Harebreaks are; they are not open public facilites. They never have been. They are closed, fully supervised facilities.

They are no different to other fully supervised facilities, like schools, playgroups or nurseries – where adults are not allowed to stay.

Parents and carers are, of course, welcome to bring their children safely into the sites and settle them in.

If parents aren’t happy leaving their children – there are lots of other options open to them. In the town, there are 4 community centres, 5 children’s centres, over 40 areas of park and playgrounds, as well as a museum, two libraries… These are also free to attend and open to everyone.

A couple of months ago, Iain was relentless in his criticism of LabourList and Liberal Conspiracy websites for resorting to ‘churnalism’ – the copy-and-paste-without-checking-sources habit that drives so much print and online media these days (and I don’t exempt Lib Dem Voice from the criticism). That’s schadenfreude for you, Iain.

Update: as Sunny points out in the comments, Mayor Dorthy Thornhill has issued her own statement:

I wanted to reassure residents that I’ve not taken leave of my senses, and contrary to reports in the media, Watford Borough Council has not banned parents from public parks and playgrounds in the town!

This is about our adventure playgrounds, which are closed-off, fenced-in, fully supervised facilities for over 5s. Parents drop off their kids and leave them in our care – no different to playgroups or schools where adults are also not allowed to stay. We have a responsibility to those parents to safeguard their kids, and provide the best possible environment for them.

What has happened is that at Harwoods a handful of parents have been staying on, not just dropping their kids off. After a number of incidents, staff that run the facility felt that the presence of these parents was hampering their ability to supervise the kids properly – who remember are engaging in risky play and do need to be given full attention. They’ve now brought the site in line with Harebreaks, where parents don’t stay on and they have no problems.

Quotes attributed to me have been taken out of context – I’m not saying adults shouldn’t be allowed on playgrounds – I’d go out and shoot myself if this was the case – only on these specialised play facilities! We have 40 other playgrounds elsewhere in the Borough where parents are welcome to stay.

What I have taken from this is the importance of the accuracy of language and the power of the web – none of these news stories would have appeared if we didn’t refer to our adventure play sessions as adventure playgrounds.

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33 Comments

  • Bill Kristol-Balls 29th Oct '09 - 1:55pm

    Even funnier when Arsene Dale has this very week been ridiculing the Norfolk Tories for not Google-ing that PPC who’d been having an affair with another pol a few years ago and is now up for de-selection before even getting elected.

    Hoisted by his own pertard.

    What is a pertard? Perhaps I should Google it?

  • Malcolm Todd 29th Oct '09 - 2:13pm

    I suppose a “pertard” would be “someone who is insufferably pert”. I think you mean “hoist by his own petard” — which is a sort of old-fashioned pipe bomb.
    Next time, forget Google and try a dictionary! 😉

  • Malcolm Todd 29th Oct '09 - 2:25pm

    Actually, this story does seem a bit odd. I realise the Tory “PC gone mad” morons have made far more of it than it really is; but I still think it’s kind of weird to have a “play” facility for primary-age children (as well as early teens) that actually excludes the parents. I would have have felt very doubtful about leaving my children in such a place when they were young.

    The comparison with “schools, playgroups and nurseries” doesn’t really hold water. I’ve never heard of any such place that actually bans parents of young children from staying, although they would mostly expect it to be by arrangement rather than randomly and unpredictably – and of course, schools at least have a rather more structured job to do.

    Even if the motivation isn’t paedophile paranoia (and I can’t help suspecting that it is, at least in part), it still seems like an example of the depressing professionalisation of adult-child relationships in our society.

  • Sorry Iain, had your article only been attacking Dorothy Thornhill for the comment which you quoted then you might have had an argument (and I might have agreed with you.) But you were reciting a story from Metro practically verbatim without checking the facts – as Stephen points out, exactly what you were correctly criticising other blogs for doing.

  • LiberalHammer 29th Oct '09 - 3:23pm

    I read the Watford Observer and then the rebuttal on the Council’s site. Frankly it doesn’t make the council look good and seems to be a grotesque over-reaction by the Council, and it only reflects badly on the LDs. I really hope that the Mayor is not typical of the Dems.

  • OK – this is not an ordinary playpark, it’s a playpark which operates in a similar manner to a creche or nursery. I can leave my child there, under supervision, while I go off and do shopping (or whatever.) I know that all the adults who are there and around my child have been security checked. I’m happy that my child is in a safe environment.

    Somebody please tell me – where’s the problem????

  • When you’re in a hole stop digging. This isn’t a right wing press thing. I first saw it in the Guardian and then the website of the local paper. There was response from a council spokesperson which said nothing about closed creches. I also looked at the mayor’s own website, which also said nothing about closed creches. Now they’ve come up with this story. The lib dems need to do something about Dorothy Thornhill. Pretending there’s no problem and finding a right wing blogger to blame it on is a thoroughly inadequate response. As someone (not me) said under Henry Porter’s Guardian article, this has made me embarassed to be a Lib Dem supporter.

  • I fail to understand why Iain Dale is blamed fot this story. Long before Iain raised it it was a big story in the Guardian. Before we attempt to defend Dorothy Thornhill I think we need to recognise “it is political correctness gone mad”. She has a lot to answer for and we should get a better explanation from her before attacking Iain.

  • Iain Sharpe 29th Oct '09 - 7:37pm

    There are a few things here.

    @ Caron – “I think it’s a shame to exclude those children who aren’t yet ready to be left somewhere away from their parents”

    By definition these children are of an age where they go to school where they are presumably left by their parents. Presumably schools don’t allow a general right for parents to attend their children’s classes. We are talking here about supervised play sessions where children are left in the care of council workers – run free of charge. The equivalent would be cubs, brownies etc. where in my experience parents were not welcome to stay with their children for the organised session (or at least no parents actually did, we never thought to insist on remaining with them).

    Regarding coverage other than Iain Dale’s, I think Henry Porter’s article was culpably misleading since it’s clearly designed to imply that parents have been banned from public playgrounds rather than the supervised, enclosed facilities that these actually are.

    @James Graham

    To be fair the readers of Dorothy’s blog are likely to be Watford residents worried by the press coverage that they can no longer take their children to play on the local swings. She felt that it’s best if the blog contained a single, clear, unambiguous post addressing this point.

    Iain Sharpe
    (Watford Borough councillor, husband of Dorothy Thornhill)

  • james lothian 29th Oct '09 - 10:05pm

    This whole law is badly thought and executed, all of a sudden all adults are potential criminals unless vetted, and once vetted we have a false sence of safety, as so clearly demonstrated in the latest media feeding frenzy around the Venessa George case. A nursery worer who had been CRB vetted.

    Is it me or is this just basically wrong., yes they are potential dangers out there, but are we over reacting with this legistlation and does it really so anything to help the situation. My main concern is how are our children going to turn out, fear breeds more fear, we want our children to be happy, confident and safe, are we forgetting the first two because of our fear around the third.

    We have criminalised all parents, we are looking for potential bogey men or women everywhere. I have even heard people say they wouldnt help a child in trouble in case they were accused of wrong doing.

    I have been a staunch liberal all my life and have always viewed them as the party with the most common sence, we are fast walking into a country I am having trouble recognising. A place where we have to be suspicious of all strangers, where the basic freedom enjoyed for over a hundred years is being rapidly erroded. Why you ask, because of fear, fear of the unknown fear of the stranger, fear of what is different.

    Lose your fear and free yourselves, because if we dont, we will end up living in a state, where a man can be held without charge, where it is illegal to gather more than 25 people in one place without the permission of the police, where cameras watch our every move, where we fear strangers and foriegners. What scares me most is this is the country we all live in.

    We need to find a better way, not more laws

    James Lothian

  • Sigh… we’re very good at own goals aren’t we? Perhaps if we stuck to our principle of being against elected mayors full stop, we’d have avoided some of this media nonsense and be able to focus on the issues that really matter. Oh, and am I meant to be happy that we have won the Bedford election too? Great, I’m ecstatic

  • Not just the awful Dale twisting & misreporting this, the dreadful politicalbetting.com website also has the rehashed Metro story too, claiming that public playgrounds are covered too, which they aren’t..

  • @ Caron – I think I misunderstood your comment, the point here is that the facility contains play equipment and is generally the sort of environment that isn’t really suitable for the under 5s. There are different facilities available to them.

    @ Cathy – I don’t really follow your logic. It’s hard to see how a different constitutional set up would change anything. What Dorothy has done here though is front up to the issue with parents, media etc. rather than hide behind officers.

    @ James Lothian – I agree with what you say but it’s not really relevant here, surely where we have a simple operational decision about how supervised play sessions run by the council are organised. It’s nothign to do with criminalising parents – merely saying play sessions organised for children should be for children for simple reasons to do with the practicalities of running such events.

    For more see Sara Bedford’s excellent blog post.

  • And still Mike Smithson hasn’t corrected his rubbish churnalism.

  • tots fro eu 4th Nov '09 - 9:57am

    sory to see things may own ways. perhaps the parents have faild in job. whly there do yu kno som of as father en mothry got no job so to tha must we not play with child to take away stressr.pliz mayer, mp, comons everyone do you kno i look for a job even care. i live with filipino who werk eskin hall, chase, brunswik cort, elstree= yu get what yu want if yu rea filps just coz ares are menegeryed by them friends. im perent i luk job there bat refused someone ,10 fillipino go there after me but get job just after me Just friday last.HOW COMES?i thinks uk no discrimination. students and everyone are ther alowed to work more than 20huwer but others uk border agency monitor.

    shal the bosses of the town do the employ themself and if yu want help start as volunteer get somewhere to register what you know then stert from ther. interviw er dem unfery just bekoz yu failed for frend to work the job.

    hope mayor will be tol of all. as some poupl insted of working prerl huwer go from her thery slep at wok , stert 12nait insted of 8 but get all huor money. we cant complein dairect as victimized by some manager but we see. let fer deal at werk= 1person 1 job. why greed with job and no advantage to others. job is there but how, who where, sory but ferness.

    tots eu

3 Trackbacks

  • […] reported here on LDV this afternoon on the serious mis-reporting of Watford Borough Council’s children’s […]

  • By The LDV Friday Five (ish): 30/10/09 on Fri 30th October 2009 at 6:54 pm.

    […] 3. What did you make of Chris Huhne’s Question Time performance? #bbcqt (30) by Stephen Tall 4. Watford’s liberal Lib Dem Mayor – what Iain Dale didn’t report (31) by Stephen Tall 5. Nick Griffin’s verdict on Chris Huhne (8) by Stephen […]

  • […] we go.. here’s the really great bit: The Liberal Democrat Voice and the Liberal Conspiracy have comprehensively debunked the original Metro article that gave […]

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