'Official channels' are useless for complaints
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
This is SouthDevon
THE Torquay Three councillors may well have reason to make their allegations regarding the influence of Freemasons but to have proved it was nigh on impossible as many of us who have had experience of such matters will know.
My father was a Freemason and in his lodge were police officers, magistrates, solicitors, doctors local government officers and business men; they were all bonded together through oath, symbols and secret ceremonies. As time went by he realised that some of the members were using their unique relationships to promote or protect their own prosperity and careers.
As he said, being on the inside witnessing their activities clarified in his mind as to what was happening in his city in so many spheres. His judgement was that this influence was at best unhealthy, at worse downright corrupt. He lapsed his membership and advised me not to join should I ever be invited.
It was the best advice he ever gave me as I witnessed its corrupting influence on occasions during my 40-year public service career.
I should emphasise that the great majority of masons with whom I came into contact were, without question, men of integrity and enjoyed pursuing their craft. Unfortunately the activities of a small unethical few have done their brotherhood immense harm over the years.
Those of us with long memories remember a similar spate in Torquay many years ago. At the time a very disillusioned councillor in the ruling party, and for whom I had the utmost respect and admiration, told me that most of the important policy decisions were being made by a 'small cabal in smoked filled rooms' from which she and lesser members of her party were excluded. So it seems there is nothing new here, is history just repeating itself?
What concerns me most about this affair is that it is yet another example as to how our freedom of speech has been whittled away in recent years. We are all being constrained and councillors are no exception. The rules and regulations surrounding what they can and cannot say is a Kafkaesque nightmare. If they overstep the mark they are called before a tribunal and publicly castigated, suspended or can even lose office. They must toe the line; it is all very Orwellian.
The Torquay Three are told by the Overview and Scrutiny Committee they should have used official channels to make their complaint. As one who has used local authority complaint channels I can tell them they would be wasting their time. I have lost all faith in them. Public institutions have a self-denial culture and complainants will find themselves entangled in a web of smoke screens, Chinese mirrors, failures to respond, lost files and inaccurate information, often culminating with it being kicked into the long grass. The complaints process must keep a sizeable number of bureaucrats in employment .
And finally their party chairman Eric Pickles tells them it should have not been brought into the public domain. It says a lot about his leadership style and gives some credence to their complaints. I hope his electorate remember his comments at the next election. I wish you every success in your Freedom of Information application — if successful it could make interesting reading.
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