On Tuesday, the council’s standards committee is due to consider an Ombudsman’s report into the alleged misuse of Cabinet room computers by IPPG chairman and deputy council Leader Rob Lewis.
The meeting starts at 10 am and is open to the public.
Cllr Lewis has admitted 16 cases of misuse and is disputing a further five which he claims were connected with council, as opposed to Independent Political Group, business.
As revealed on that other website, Cllr Lewis and his Cabinet colleague Cllr David Wildman used the council computer system to prepare and publish election material for IPG (as it was then known) members during both the 2008 and 2012 polls.
It seems to me that anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of how democracy is supposed to work would instinctively understand the difficulties that might arise from the use of council resources to gain an advantage during what are supposed to be free and fair elections.
For those lacking these basic democratic instincts, the council has produced some helpful guidelines which include: “You should never use council resources for purely political purposes, including designing and distributing party political material produced for publicity purposes.” and “Members should also have regard to the fact that periods leading up to local government elections are particularly sensitive in this regard.”
As I have said before, the picture of Cllr Lewis sitting in the Cabinet room masterminding the IPG’s election strategy is not easy to reconcile with their claim not to be a political party.
The Ombudsman seems only to have dealt with 35 files from the 2012 campaign, but the memory stick I was sent contains details of 75 files generated on PCC computers during both the 2008 and 2012 elections which name Rob Lewis as the author/editor and another 34 which were generated elsewhere and stored on PCC’s system in his name.
It should also be borne in mind that some of these files underwent multiple revisions, so it must have eaten into the time he was supposed to be spending on his Cabinet duties as member with responsibility for highways.
For instance, ex-Cllr Jim Codd’s election address was revised 16 times, though even that degree of editorial supervision didn’t prevent the end product having East Williams(t)on appearing three times without the ‘t’.
Rob Lewis’s response to all this is absolutely typical.
His first effort was to try and shift the blame on to this and that other website which broke the story with it’s excellent Partygate series.
When the Ombudsman showed a marked lack of enthusiasm for this line of defence/attack, he switched to complaining that “I have had information stolen from my machine”.
I have no idea how this information came into the hands of Cllr Jacob Williams, but my preferred theory is that someone in County Hall was so concerned about this industrial-scale misuse of the council’s computer system that they leaked the files.
Of course, if Cllr Lewis thinks they were stolen, he should report the matter to the police.
It is interesting to note that, towards the end of his interview, he tells the investigator that what “worries him more” is that other files containing information regarding constituents who had contacted him might also have been “stolen” along with the election files.
It is very noble of him to be more concerned about the leaking of information relating to his constituents than having to admit to the Ombudsman that he had used council computers in breach of the Code of Conduct and the council’s own guidelines.
I wouldn’t want Cllr Lewis to be losing sleep over this, so, as a humanitarian gesture, I can tell him that whoever leaked these files was careful not to include any personal stuff.
In a burst of candour Cllr Lewis explains why he was co-ordinating the IPG’s election effort.
“…as the ruling group we were 39 [out of 60] before the election”, and “I was there to assist members, you know, obviously we had an interest in keeping control of the council.”
That should finally lay to rest the IPPG’s bogus claims not to be a de facto political party.
And at the next election they will, perhaps, be kind enough to publish a manifesto explaining to the voters why they consider putting them in “control of the council” is a good idea.
In both the 2008 and 2012 elections Cllr Lewis produced a results sheet showing the standing of the various parties.
In 2008 dictionary independents such as Old Grumpy and Grumpette were labelled “Idiots” and in 2012 “Uglies”.
The interviewer asked Cllr Lewis for an explanation for the use of the term “Uglies”.
His reply is given as “[laughs]”.
Well, as they say: “He who laughs last, laughs longest.”