Monday, 2 March 2009

Publicity rather than working for a living

I was shocked and stunned and, perhaps, even a little amazed to read about Labour MP Anne Begg refusing to deal properly with a constituency case, deciding instead to seek headlines from what is little other than administrative errors on the part of council officers.

A phone call from the MP's office with a confirmatory letter would be the way to handle such cases - it would be sorted out quietly and without any fuss. Surely this Labour MP isn't more concerned with making headlines than with working for her constituents? Is she just concerned that there's an election approaching?

Another thing - why is the BBC running this guff as if it's news? What happened to professional pride?


Stuart Winton said...

I love your tongue in cheek partisanship, Calum.

However, I'm never sure where the humour ends and the serious points start - by saying that Anne Begg failed to deal with the case properly that sounds like an allegation of neglect rather than her perhaps using the case to score political points?

And I know that my 86-year-old mother would be mortified - indeed terrified - if she received such a threat, administrative error or otherwise, so if the council receive adverse publicity over the cases then that's fine by me, and perhaps it might prevent similar errors being made in future.

I once received a letter from Dundee CC threatening me with a warrant sale over an unpaid debt of a pound or so. A couple of years later I raised this in a letter to the Dundee press (as an aside, effectively - it wasn't the main point of the letter), but if you consider such an issue as 'guff' then too bad!!

Calum Cashley said...

Tongue in cheek? I'm always deadly serious ...

Why should there be a dividing line between humour and serious points? Serious points can be made just as well, and oftentimes better, with a smile rather than a frown (although I'm partial to a wee frown at times as well).

Cases shouldn't be dealt with in the full glare of publicity unless the constituent will receive a benefit having had their case thus publicised that they wouldn't have otherwise - and that simply is not the case here. Most politicians go about casework like this with no fuss, getting the work done, getting the improvements made for their constituents and not seeking to turn it into headlines - simply because that does nothing to help the constituents, doesn't improve the working relationship between the politician and 'officialdom' (if you will), and means that publicity generated by hte politician has less impact when it's actually needed.

Council officers are human beings doing a job, they're not monsters and they do not target vulnerable people.

If you want to make a value judgement about whether the MP is serving her constituents or chasing headlines, probe a little. Why did she not ask the council how many such cases had been reported to it? An indication of the frequency of such cases would help frame the arguments and would indicate whether it was widespread or limited. Of course there will be cases where costs are disputed and where mistakes have been made, but the only 'benefit' from this tale is Anne Begg getting herself some publicity for her re-election campaign.

Constituents who seek the help of politicians - especially constituents who might be described as vulnerable - have the right to expect that the politician will work to resolve the problem rather than be used as a tool for publicity.

Right across the country politicians of all parties work like that every day but there are a few whose lust for publicity is just too strong and they carry the danger of creating worry and concern that may lead some people, especially people who are in those vulnerable groups, to shy away from the help that can be offered to them.

Politicians like Anne Begg do all of us a disservice. So do those who would style themselves as journalists but fail to ask the basic questions like "so, have you asked how often this happens?"

Stuart Winton said...

Calum, I agree with a lot of what you've said, but you wouldn't have made the post if there wasn't political capital in it, thus if Anne Begg is politically motivated then so are you!!

Anyway, you accuse Anne Begg of jumping the gun a bit, not ascertaining the facts etc, but surely it shouldn't matter how many incidents there are if a single occurence is worth raising?

And do you know, for example, how Anne Begg came to seek publicity for the cases?

If you look at the Press and Journal version of the story, for example, it per se arguably suggests that it wasn't Anne Begg who sought the press coverage.

At the very least, since both the aggrieved parties are photographed, they presumably didn't object to press coverage.

As for officials, I didn't quite suggest they're monsters or anything like that, but that hardly puts them beyond criticism - some are effectively unelected Labour politicians, for example, thus should be held to account ;0)

It's not as if any officials are named either.

Calum Cashley said...

I never said she was wrong to be politically motivated, I said she was in the wrong for using a constituency case for her own publicity. Nor did I ever suggest that I lack political motivation - but neither have I used a constituency case for my own publicity.

The P&J story reads clearly to me that the approach was by the MP, standard news release - set the scene, play out the case, hero rides to the rescue, make sure the subjects are available for the press.

The consent of the parties involved to appear in photographs doesn't mean that the actions of the MP were correct.

The political affiliations of council officers should not interfere with their duties, they have a contractual obligation to ensure that doesn't happen, and I'm content to leave their employment contracts in the hands of their employers.

Stuart Winton said...

But I doubt if you would have said anything if the MP had been SNP and the council was Labour-controlled!

And where do you draw the line with this 'tool of publicity' accusation?

For example, Shona Robinson was on TV and in the papers opening a renal unit in Perth, meeting the patients etc. Couldn't she have kept out of this instead of using it as a 'tool of publicity'?

And another admin blunder at the weekend in Tayside resulted in residents combing the streets, police and a search and rescue team mobilised to search for a missing pensioner, who had actually been admitted to PRI but when asked by police the hospital staff claimed they had no trace of her.

John Swinney, Pete Wishart and Murdo Fraser are kicking up a stink about it, but do you think this is right in light of what you said about Anne Begg?

OK, they perhaps didn't initiate the publicity, but isn't this unfairly exploiting a simple administrative error in the way you accuse Anne Begg of doing?

As for what precisely happened in regarding Anne Begg, I don't think either of us know the exact circumstances, but it seems to me that the complainants were hardly dragged kicking and screaming to the press.

As for the political affiliations of council officers, yes you've got the theory right, but what about the practice?

In fact it's not so much councillors unduly influencing council officers that worries me, it's the other way round ;0)

Calum Cashley said...

This is such a simple principle and such a clear breach that I can only assume that you are being disingenuous.

The MP breached the confidentiality of the politician's surgery. None of the other examples you have given do anything of the sort.

I resent your implication that I would condone wrong-doing if the circumstances favoured my political persuasion. Such an ill-considered and groundless accusation demeans yourself far more than any slight you can leave me with.

In practice as well as in theory almost all council officers carry out their duties in a professional and impartial manner and their political affiliations do not impinge upon that. There are, in all walks of life, those who will act in a manner which breaches their professional protocols, of course, but they are no more to be found amongst council officers than in any other occupation.

Indy said...

Stuart you could not be more wrong.

Glasgow City Council for example also uses Scott & Co to pursue uncollected debt.

Local authorities are legally obliged to do pursue unpaid debt.

I have yet to hear of any SNP councillor, MSP or MP going to the press with complaints from constituents which arise from the process.