Sunday, 12 April 2009

Have the Tories become the New Stalinists?

Prior to this afternoon, I'd only ever come across the term "Political Officer" in relation to some rather unpleasant individuals operating in the USSR. These party cadres used to ensure that party will was enforced and ideas that clashed with those of Stalin, Lenin & Breshnev were crushed.

Whilst researching the role of "cabinet advisors" in Barnet, I came across the Conservative Political Officers Network. What do they do?

CPON members have their fingers 'on the pulse' of local and national government issues, so much so that they often know the news before anyone else. They are able to communicate events instantly through Torypols – the fastest, most interactive political web tool in British politics today.

Our collective knowledge and experience of how to run administrations and oppositions, combined with local knowledge of towns and cities, plus our expert media relations make CPON, and its members, essential operatives in today’s political world.

Here is a list of jobs that these people are expected to perform.

  • Research & policy development.
  • Group organisation and administration - in conjunction with the group.
  • Secretary and/or group leader's PA; involves arranging substitutes, group meetings, collecting subscriptions, generally supporting the group leader and group management team.
  • 'Social Work' - a shoulder to cry on, sounding board, and general information point.
  • Press officer.
  • Webmaster to the Group's website.
  • Contact for the local and regional Conservative party and the local and regional government Conservative groups.
  • Unofficial link into the national party, through CPON, Conservative Councillors' Association, Conservative Central Office and Conservative Local Government Association.
A further description :-

A Political Assistant is a local government officer, employed exclusively to support a local political group in its day-to-day council duties. Political Assistants are 'politically restricted' as per the Local Government & Housing Act 1989, meaning they are not allowed to voice their political opinion in public, nor publicly canvas for a particular political party, although they are allowed to convey their political opinion and advice to the group they support.

The duties of a Political Assistant covers a vast spectrum of professional roles, and cannot be pigeon-holed into a particular category. At any one time a Political Assistant will undertake the duties of a policy advisor, press officer, political operative, researcher, case worker, quasi-councillor, counsellor, secretary, web designer, web master, marketing manager, image consultant, photographer and graphic designer to name just a few professional duties. In essence a Political Assistant is the ultimate communications expert.


So there you go. The taxpayer funds these posts. I've highlighted the passages that interest me. Firstly, I wonder whether the first paragraph imposes any restrictions on political officers blogging? This is a public domain. Now I'm sure that no one in Barnet would do such a thing, but in light of the McBride scandal, it makes you wonder?

As to the other words I've highlighted. Are you happy that £60,000 of taxpayers money is being spent so that non elected people can act as quasi-councillors. Do you think that at a time when Barnet is removing wardens from sheltered accomodation, that providing Tory politicians with a shoulder to cry on is a good use of public money. Do you think that, at a time when people across the Borough are losing jobs and homes, the best use of £60,000 is an Image Consultant for our councillors? Do you think our Tory councillors need an Unofficial Link into the National Party.

ABOVE: Some of the CPON team (l-r); Leigh Hooker (House of Commons), Morgan Einon (seated, Vale of White Horse), Andy Wood (Kirklees), Chris Heaney (Bedford), Richard Robeson (seated, Barnet), Richard Ashton (Tameside), Robert Booth (Somerset) & Kate Stinton (Kingston upon Thames)

Well let me tell you what I think. I think that it sounds undemocratic, dangerous and wasteful. I think it sounds Stalinist and having visited the USSR several times in it's heyday, that scares me to death. Most of all though, it sounds UNCONSERVATIVE. Looking at this website scared me to death. I've this question for our Conservative councillors. Do you really think that this role and this organisation is Conservative and compatible with your principles? I thought you believed in small government and self sufficiency, or is that only for the prolatetariat? Is the party different? I doubt that when George Orwell wrote 1984 he envisaged that in 2009 there would be a "Conservative Political Officers Network" there to advise the leader of Barnet Council on his image?


Don't Call Me Dave said...

There is absolutely no justification in political assistants being paid for by the taxpayer. They are carrying out a party political job. If the councillors think their assistants are so wonderful, let them pay for their services out of their own pockets.

We also need to scrap the allowance paid to councillors who perform the job of Group Secretary or party whip. Again, these are political jobs. Why should we have to pay for it?

If Barnet scrapped the posts of cabinet adviser, political assistants and deleted the allowances paid to councillors for political jobs, it would save nearly £175,000 a year.

There are far better, and more productive ways of spending that amount of money.

Rog T said...

£175,000 - Rather puts into perspective the £5,000 raised through increasing the costs of Infant burials.

Alan said...

Actually political assistants were established (or at least regularised) under the Mrs Thatcher. The Act in question is the Local Government and Housing Act 1989 s.9. Can't get much more Conservative than Mrs T can you?

Of course, some people are much happier for councillors to only get advise from traditional council officers. They're renowned for their lack of any left-wing political bias...

Alan said...

"the Mrs Thatcher" wasn't quite what I intended, but actually it sounds quite fitting to give her the definite article!