Is freedom of the British press over as UK blogging enters the age of George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (1984)?

Is freedom of the British press over as UK blogging enters the age of George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (1984)?

Is freedom of the British press over as UK blogging enters the age of George Orwell’s “Ministry of Truth” (1984)?

                                              

Ministry of Truth George Orwell 1984 comment removed
Ministry of Truth George Orwell 1984 comment removed

As I run a blog, I will declare an interest at the start of this article in that I am the operator of this blog. Before anyone accuses me of bias again (I will point out that much of the below is an opinion piece based on a recent court case, legal changes and experience).

One of the things I enjoy about writing (and reading other blogs) is that people do leave comments (although many others read without leaving a comment). The United Kingdom is however not an ideal place to base a high-tech business, which is part of the reason that in an ideal world doing what I do, I wouldn’t be based at all in the UK but somewhere that doesn’t have such a peculiar regulatory environment.

Previously the UK was well-known for its “libel tourism” because of the way the courts here operated when it came to libel. However from past cases certain things can’t be libelled, such as a political party or a local council. Even on matters published abroad, in the past lawyers had preferred to sue in the UK because of the way the court system was here and how easy it was to win their case (and how disastrous financially for the defendant even if they won!).

A lot of the laws that govern the media in this country were based on print publications and arguments about censorship have raged for centuries. A lot of the laws were written before the internet actually happened and were frankly, well overdue for reform. Eventually reform came.

For an example of what used to happen, I direct you to the case of what happened involving Carmarthenshire County Council. Details of the judgement in Thompson v James & Anor ([2013] EWHC 515 (QB) can be read by following that link.

Please note this next bit is in reference to Wales (a country within the UK that borders the Wirral but has a different set of laws and legal system (as well as political system) to here in England).

A local blogger there, Mrs Thompson sued the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council Mark James, alleging that he had libelled her. This was in reference to a letter written from Mark James that referred to Mrs Thompson that was published on another blog (that is not the blog of Mrs. Thompson) that writes under the nom de plume madaxeman.

When sued, the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council used public funds to pay his legal costs (Carmarthenshire County Council had provided him with an indemnity for his legal costs) and his legal team also counterclaimed against Mrs Thompson for references made about Mr. James on her blog which he took exception to.

The court dismissed Mrs Thompson’s libel claim, but upheld Mr James’ counterclaim.

Although the audit bodies in Wales in relation to Carmarthenshire County Council have questioned the issue of whether using public funds for his employer to pay the Chief Executive’s legal costs in a libel lawsuit is actually lawful, Mark James is now vigorously pursuing enforcement of the court order he was granted against Mrs Thompson through a Land Registry charge on her property in respect of damages awarded to him and the defendant’s legal costs (paid for by the taxpayer).

Partly to prevent the courts getting completely clogged up with libel cases (because let’s face it if everyone who had ever had anything written about them untrue online actually filed a lawsuit with the court that would happen), whereas in the past somebody could sue not only the author of a comment, but the publisher and the editor as well, the law was changed. The UK ended up with a new libel law (Defamation Act 2013), which completely reformed the old libel laws, introduced defences of truth, honest opinion and publication on a matter of public interest and also new regulations were introduced that came into force on 2nd December 2013.

The new libel law also introduced a test that had to met. Any statement that was claimed to be defamatory had to have “caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant”. The new regulations are referred to as the Defamation (Operators of Websites) Regulations 2013 and cover comments left on blogs.

This blog (and comments left on it) fall under the new regulations as I’m the operator of the blog and am based in the UK. In theory if I wasn’t based in the UK but the people leaving the comments were, their comments would probably fall under the new regulations too.

In relation to user generated content (such as comments) on blogs, it means that now the operator of the blog (such as myself) is not liable if the operator of the blog follows the rather strict procedure laid down in the regulations when a complaint is made.

The regulations can be read online, but basically as an operator of a blog if a complaint (that falls within the regulations or even a defective notice) is made about a comment on my blog, I have to within 48 hours (assuming the commenter complained about actually has provided an email address) get in touch with the poster of the comment and they then have 5 days to respond. I also at this stage contact the complainant too.

If no response is received from the person who left the comment within 5 days, the comment is removed, otherwise I’m in breach of the regulations. The person who left the comment has five days to respond and the regulations give them a variety of options which partially determine what happens next. For example they can withdraw their comment in which case it is removed at that point. There are however other options also available to them.

Other larger technology businesses aren’t entirely happy with the current regulatory framework under which they have to operate here in the UK and have published transparency reports as to complaints received and outcomes. I have decided it is high time that I did this too, especially considering the views of the media on censorship.

Out of many thousands of comments currently on the blog since the new regulations came into effect on the 2nd December 2013 there have been complaints so far about two. Detail is provided below.

However, I’d like some feedback from you the reader as to the level of detail provided below and how open and transparent I am being. Are there things you think I should include in future reports, that I am not including currently?

Obviously in the case of complaint #1 I’m not allowed to republish the original comment as that has concluded and the author of the comment has withdrawn it. However there seems to be a general pattern emerging as to the type of stories I get requests for comments to be removed on, doesn’t there?

==============================================================================================================
STATUS: Completed (comment removed 4th July 2014 see here)

Complaint number: Complaint #1

Comment author: John Hardaker

Complainant: Surjit Tour of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral (Wirral Council)

Article comment attached to: Graham Burgess invites Wirral Council councillors to 5 days of the Open Golf Championship

Outcome: Comment author (Mr. Hardaker) decided to withdraw comment and text of comment was edited out with details inserted explaining why.

Note: see also partial transcript of BBC Radio Merseyside broadcast at Councillor Walter Smith “I must say I enjoyed lavish hospitality” which discussed this.

===============================================================================================================
STATUS: Completed (comment removed 13th October 2014)

Complaint number: Complaint #2

Comment author: James Griffiths

Complainant: He/she have chosen to remain anonymous

Article comment attached to: Graham Burgess (Chief Executive) announces he will retire from Wirral Council on 31st December 2014

Outcome: Comment author (Mr. Griffiths) sent email wishing to withdraw comment.

Note:

===============================================================================================================

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A Martian tries to understand the incredible Lyndale School situation (episode 2)

A Martian tries to understand the incredible Lyndale School situation (episode 2)

A Martian tries to understand the incredible Lyndale School situation (episode 2)

                                                  

Marvin the Martian from Disney's Looney Tunes
Marvin the Martian from Disney’s Looney Tunes

The below is a fictional interview with Marvin the Martian about Lyndale School. Marvin the Martian is trademarked to Warner Brothers Entertainment. Our legal team point out their trademark doesn’t actually cover its use on blogs but in case they try to argue this blog is an “entertainment service”, it isn’t, so no laughing! Yes I mean it, not even a smile! We also point out it’s not an infringing use of class 9 of this trademark as that refers to its use on goods rather than virtually.

We rely on s.30 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and class this as “fair dealing” due to the acknowledgement above. When the The Copyright and Rights in Performances (Quotation and Parody) Regulations 2014 come into force in October, we’ll probably rely on them too and the new section 30A on parody.

Continues from A Martian tries to understand the incredible Lyndale School situation (episode 2).

JOHN BRACE: Thanks for agreeing to talk about Lyndale School (again).

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: You’re welcome, but I must admit we’re even more confused today.

JOHN BRACE: Why’s that?

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Well we just listened from our spaceship to the BBC Radio Merseyside broadcast.

JOHN BRACE: Ahh, I see.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: The way Lyndale was described it’s a hospital, not a school.

JOHN BRACE: I see why you’re confused. It’s both in a way.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Well thanks for clearing that point up. So now we can say the red politicians want to close a hospital?

JOHN BRACE: No the red politicians will say they invented free hospitals, that hospitals are very dear to their heart and that they don’t want to privatise them as it doesn’t fit with their socialist ideals. They’ll tell you that hospitals aren’t safe in the hands of the blues or the yellows (or any other colour than red).

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: But the blues, yellows and greens want to keep this “hospital” open! The reds keep voting at every stage to close it!

JOHN BRACE: The reds will say they just voted for “consultation”, won’t call it a hospital and if pressed, they’ll just blame it on the blues and the yellows.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Right there’s another point I want clearing up now too. The bureaucrats who work for the reds, say that the blues and yellows are giving the reds an extra £260,029 this year for special educational needs.

JOHN BRACE: Yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: But the blues and the yellows say that it’s not £260,029, but £364,135 and that the reds were told in January that they can spend this SEN Reform Revenue Grant to “choose how to spend the money in order to best meet local need” and that its purposes is (according to the blues/yellows) to “improve outcomes for children and young people with SEN; increase choice and control for parents; and promote a less adversarial system.”?

JOHN BRACE: The reds would prefer you didn’t mention that.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why?

JOHN BRACE: Well their whole argument is blaming the blues and yellows for giving them less money, not more. It’s an “inconvenient truth”.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And in politics you don’t talk about the inconvenient truths?

JOHN BRACE: Yes, it’s not diplomatic or tactful to do so. If you try that with a red politician they’ll call you “political”.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And why is that a bad thing?

JOHN BRACE: Because like unravelling a ball of string, once you start plucking away at one bit the whole thing starts falling apart.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So the reds believe if they repeat enough that the blues and yellows are giving them less money that people like BBC Radio Merseyside will repeat it?

JOHN BRACE: Yes, they’ve been on a media training course you see.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Oh, in how to deal with people like you?

JOHN BRACE: Partly, but anyway your arguments about money are pointless.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why?

JOHN BRACE: Because Wirral Council has been given the money referred to above (at least the first two instalments), but they don’t officially have it.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: What kind of double talk is that?

JOHN BRACE: It’s not part of the budget that Labour agreed back in the Spring of 2014.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Was that deliberate?

JOHN BRACE: You mean they’d deliberately try to close the school, then suddenly magically find money they knew they had all along but tried to keep quiet and then use that to keep it open to make themselves look wonderful?

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: No, did they deliberately set a budget knowing they had this extra money?

JOHN BRACE: I don’t know, you’d better ask them.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Going back to the radio show, they said it should be about the children.

JOHN BRACE: Yes it should.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So why do they keep getting talked out of the discussion?

JOHN BRACE: Because politicians would rather score political points.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: I listened to the parents, they referred to a “David versus Goliath” battle.

JOHN BRACE: It always is with Wirral Council, see the battles I had with them over filming meetings (until central government stepped in).

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So they were worried you’d film them “scoring political points”?

JOHN BRACE: No.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Oh so they were worried you’d film them trying to close a school?

JOHN BRACE: No.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So what were the reasons then?

JOHN BRACE: Health and safety.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Well that’s ironic in a way isn’t it? They’re bothered about the health and safety implications of you filming meetings but not the health and safety of the Lyndale children?

JOHN BRACE: You might put it that way, I couldn’t possibly comment.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Well, the parents seem to think it’ll affect their children’s health if the school is closed.

JOHN BRACE: A lot of people think it would.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And if the school closes all the staff are out of a job too.

JOHN BRACE: Yes, but the reds are the “party of the workers”.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: What does that mean?

JOHN BRACE: It means they side with the unions and the workers.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Ahh, so the unions want to close Lyndale?

JOHN BRACE: No, the unions are against closure. See UNISON’s response starting on page 37 which states the consultation was “misleading” and compared to Children’s Centres that there is no “equality or fairness” for Lyndale staff. NUT (National Union of Teachers) also states the consultation was “misleading” and that if Lyndale was closed “some of our most vulnerable pupils will be left without access to a local school.”

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: This whole politics thing is starting not to make any sense!

JOHN BRACE: Now you know how people feel about the whole thing.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So to recap, the blues and yellows gave the reds more money for this sort of thing that the reds won’t spend (yet). The reds say the blues and yellows are giving them less money.

The blues, yellows, reds and greens all say they’re on the side of the people and the reds say they’re the party of the unions. The unions seem to be on the same side as the blues, yellows and greens?

JOHN BRACE: No because a lot of those involved with the unions to put it mildly dislike the blues.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Your whole political system makes no sense whatsoever!!!

JOHN BRACE: That’s “democracy” for you.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Don’t people get frustrated having to live under such a system?

JOHN BRACE: Yes which is why they get a vote.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And what does a vote do?

JOHN BRACE: It allows people to pick the politicians out of the reds, blues, greens, yellows, purples et cetera.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So if your political system is as it is it’s the public who are to blame?

JOHN BRACE: Well no, our system ignores a majority of their votes. Let’s give an example. This year in Pensby and Thingwall 4,086 people voted.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: OK.

JOHN BRACE: Roughly one in three of those voted for the red party, the rest (two in three) voted for someone else.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So someone else won?

JOHN BRACE: No the red party won, although most people voted for someone else.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So you’re saying the red party is now in charge making the decisions, even though most people who voted in Pensby & Thingwall didn’t want them in charge?

JOHN BRACE: Yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So your voting system means you ignore the wishes of most people and then just pick someone that most people don’t want?

JOHN BRACE: Sometimes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Well doesn’t that mean whoever is in charge is unpopular?

JOHN BRACE: Well that’s the weird thing about our political system, since the red party have been in charge, they’ve become slightly more popular with the public.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Well according to what you just told me they weren’t very popular to start with!

JOHN BRACE: Indeed, but if you look at that election I just mentioned it was between a red and a former red that had switched to the blues. The reds really really did not want their former colleague to win.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So the public were asked to vote to choose between a red and a former red who is now a blue!

JOHN BRACE: Yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So let’s get this straight, the reds are in charge not because they’re terribly popular but because of your voting system.

JOHN BRACE: Yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And most people don’t vote or when they do vote often their vote doesn’t count (which is why they often choose not to vote)?

JOHN BRACE: Yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And that’s called democracy?

JOHN BRACE: Yes.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: But the children of Lyndale are not allowed to vote?

JOHN BRACE: No.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why not?

JOHN BRACE: I don’t make the rules here.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So Lyndale School can be closed by a bunch of red politicians that most people never voted for and in some places a majority don’t want, that claim to be the party of the unions (who are against the idea), claim to the party of the people (who are also against the idea) and the ones who will be affected (the children) don’t even get a say in whether the politicians are red, blue, yellow, green (or something else) this year?

JOHN BRACE: You left out the bit about the reds blaming it all on the blues and the yellows.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Oh yes, the red politicians say they don’t have any money because of the blues and the yellows, but the blues and the yellows say well that’s the reds’ fault but they’ve given the reds more money anyway?

JOHN BRACE: As usual it is more complicated than that.

MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And you call that “democracy”, sounds like disorganised chaos!

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Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 prevents councillors stopping filming at public meetings

Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 prevents councillors stopping filming at public meetings

Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 prevents councillors stopping filming at public meetings

                               

Today marks a change in the filming of public meetings of Wirral Council. Today is when the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 comes into effect. This new law (which only applies to England) prevents local councils stopping filming of their public meetings (which obviously is welcomed by myself and others up and down the country).

It doesn’t however just apply to local councils, but also to the Merseyside Fire and Rescue Authority, meetings of the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority (which includes Merseytravel) and joint committees such as the Merseyside Police and Crime Panel. The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority and Merseyside Police and Crime Panel have in the recent past refused requests from myself to film their public meetings (you can read here about the refusal by four councillors on the Merseyside Police and Crime Panel which happened back in April). The new law also applies to meetings of parish councils, although there aren’t any of these in Wirral there are in the rest of Merseyside.

However Wirral Council it seems is still clinging to the past. Here is a statement they gave to BBC Radio Merseyside which was read out this morning on the Tony Snell show:

“We are considering the practical implications of the legislation. Wirral Council’s meetings are regularly filmed by members of the public and journalists and residents live tweet and write blogs about proceedings. However we also need to consider the feelings of members of the public, who might be involved in proceedings and who may or may not wish to be filmed. We’re always keen to look at new ways of opening the democratic process to residents.”

The most recent example of Wirral Council stopping filming at a public meeting was exactly two months ago today at a Licensing 2003 subcommittee meeting to decide on an application for an alcohol licence for a shop in Moreton.

As to blogs, well it was about a month ago that Wirral Council made a threat of a libel lawsuit (which was withdrawn five minutes later) against this blog with regards to a comment somebody else had written.

August however is a quiet time for public meetings at Wirral Council. There is a public meeting of the Wallasey Constituency Committee Working Group tonight at 6pm in Committee Room 2 to discuss how they’ll spend £38,875 on improving road safety, £38,875 on promoting active travel and health and whether to spend £1,000 on marketing (leaflets about the Wallasey Constituency Committee and the Have Your Say meetings).

Tomorrow at 6pm (also at Wallasey Town Hall) is a meeting of the Coordinating Committee to discuss two call ins. The first call in is about a recent Cabinet decision over less generous concessions for current and former Armed Forces personnel at Wirral’s leisure centres and the second is about a recent Cabinet decision to remove funding for the Forest Schools program. However before a decision is reached on both matters the meeting will be adjourned. The one about Forest Schools will be adjourned until 6pm on Thursday 18th September and the one about leisure centres will be adjourned to Tuesday 23rd September at 6pm. The rest of the month of August (apart from a Licensing Act 2003 subcommittee meeting on the 27th August at 10am) there is only one other public meeting which is a Planning Committee meeting on Thursday 21st August at 6pm.

My next blog post today will be illustrating why filming is necessary to show that what politicians say at public meetings of Wirral Council and what Wirral Council states in their press releases isn’t always true

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Councillor Walter Smith “I must say I enjoyed lavish hospitality”

Councillor Walter Smith “I must say I enjoyed lavish hospitality”

Councillor Walter Smith “I must say I enjoyed lavish hospitality”

                         

I’ve had a chance to listen to what is probably the first mention of this blog on BBC Radio Merseyside on Friday and include a transcript below of what was said (as Roger Phillip’s show is only available to listen online for a week after the show) along with Cllr Walter Smith’s reply later in the show. It’s referring to this blog post Graham Burgess invites Wirral Council councillors to 5 days of the Open Golf Championship.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Now Paul from New Brighton is on the line, hello Paul.

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
Hello Roger, thanks for taking the call.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Pleasure.

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
Errm, I’m a golfer and I’m really chuffed that Merseyside and particularly the Wirral have got the Open err next week and you know the world’s eyes are going to be on us.

Errm, well one of the things that does concern me as a Wirral taxpayer is that my Labour run Council’s Chief Exec Mr Graham Burgess has sent a letter out, which is in the public domain now, thanks to a leak errm to all councillors inviting them to a five day jamboree basically, corporate hospitality, err at the Wirral Council’s errm event, event tent that is at the Open.

There’s only one councillor who’s publically come out and said this is not acceptable in this time of cuts and people you know sort of fighting a Council here that challenges them on bedroom tax. They actually go to appeal against them and I think the public on Wirral and on Merseyside should know this is what some politicians are getting up to. You know it’s pretty disgraceful really.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Well they tell us that it’s one trial session on Wednesday or something when there’s no competition going on. I’m not quite sure exactly more than that, they are sending us a statement but that’s what they’re saying it is.

Also as regards to the bedroom tax they say that they have to do that, the government makes them challenge these appeals, these things.

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
Well on those two points, if you actually go to the Council and ask to see Mr Graham Burgess’ letter to councillors, there’s a five day programme there which is inviting people, sorry which is inviting councillors.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Well that’s not what he’s telling us.

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
Well I’m afraid then, he’s not being honest with you.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Well it’s the press office really to be fair, but I mean they’re very clear it’s a two hour session on Wednesday, he might have given them the whole programme because they may want to go and see other things but in terms of what he’s inviting them to it’s a two hour session non competitive time on the Wednesday.

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
Well we’re in obviously in dispute on that, but I would say it’s there in the public domain and you should see it and maybe make a news comment on it later. In respect of the bedroom tax, he is legally within the right framework to say he’s not going to oppose it, but you know in Liverpool and Sefton the Council does not waste council payer’s money going up against appeals that these poor people who are struggling to find money to pay for Council Tax for bedrooms that are less than fifty square metres, you know it’s abhorrent that you’ve got a Labour Council that’s doing this!

ROGER PHILLIPS
I’ve now got the statement, it’s not quite what I said. This is the statement. It is not true that all sixty-six councillors have been invited to attend the whole of the Open competition. All councillors have been invited onto the course for a short time, where there will be no bar on one practice day, not a competition day.

The email your caller’s referred to was in fact sent to two people to attend key business days, which are aiming to attract significant inward investment into the area. It is only those people who were extended that invitation, one of which has declined. In addition, the Leader of the Council will be in attendance hosting these important inward investment sessions.

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
Well that’s what you have spin doctors for isn’t it?

ROGER PHILLIPS
Why couldn’t it be the truth?

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
Well it isn’t the truth Roger, because there is a website hosted by John Brace on the Wirral and he’s published that letter, I suggest you go and look at it.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Well there is a letter, but it only went to two people, one of which has declined.

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
Well OK, well you know I can’t prove that and neither can probably..

ROGER PHILLIPS
Well I can’t, but I mean I think it unlikely that the Council’s going to send us a direct open lie.

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
Well when we get photographs of the councillors attending over those five days and put them on the internet you know which I will do because you know I’m a taxpayer and I’m quite disgusted by the actions of this Council. Then we will see who attended and who didn’t and they’re answerable to the electorate.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Well there’s nothing to stop them attending, as long as they pay.

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
No, if they pay for their own ticket.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Well absolutely so a picture of a councillor attending means nothing.

PAUL FROM NEW BRIGHTON
Well we’ll see, ok thank you for your time Roger.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Alright cheers.

……….

ROGER PHILLIPS
But now then, Councillor Walter Smith is on the line from Liverpool City centre, he’s a councillor in Wirral. Hello Walter.

COUNCILLOR WALTER SMITH
I just wanted to put the err gentleman right who was talking about the lavish hospitality we councillors will be receiving from Wirral Borough Council during the Open Golf at err Hoylake. Errm, can I just say though there will definitely be no lavish hospitality. I don’t know whether they may give us a cup of coffee, I don’t know about that but speaking from my experience in 2010, errm I visited the course with the Council on that day and we had err a hospitality tent which I think we had a cup of coffee, there was certainly no lavish hospitality but what people need to understand is when we have an important event, such as the Open Golf Championship that it’s important that we councillors see what sort of facilities we’re providing, what are the arrangements because the world descends on Hoylake and errm we often have to make decisions based on we’re holding such an event and err so we need to experience it. It’s not very often that we get the opportunity to do that.

Now I must say in 2010 I was extremely lucky. I have a customer who is a capable manager of a hotel group and they had a hospitality suite and he invited me on the Thursday, the first day of the competition and I must say I enjoyed lavish hospitality, I mean I thought I was the luckiest man. I couldn’t have done better if I’d been a millionaire but I didn’t get that because I was a councillor. I got it because I’ve been dealing, tailoring suits for him for years and he invited me to that but that was a completely different type of hospitality to the one we councillors will enjoy at Wirral Borough Council and we’re certainly not invited on any of the competition days, I wish we were but we don’t get such a thing, you know.

ROGER PHILLIPS
OK.

COUNCILLOR WALTER SMITH
So that is the reason is we’re there have a look at, we’ve organised the event and if I mean hopefully we’ll do this again and we’ll have some experience of if there were any shortfalls in the organisation. So that is the reason and I think we should squash immediately any such thought that councillors are living it up at the taxpayer’s expense. That is clearly not the case and it hasn’t been for some years.

We don’t even have a drink with the Mayor every sort of four or five months like we used to because we’ve cut out all the frills because we’re in an extremely difficult period for local government funding. Wirral Borough Council will have lost 57% of its income err over the next few years, over the last three or four years.

So clearly we are in a difficult position. We certainly don’t want to spend any funds on a beanie except providing services for the people that pay their council tax.

ROGER PHILLIPS
You’re gilding the lily.

COUNCILLOR WALTER SMITH
Can I just finish off while I’m on? I haven’t been on for ages with you. I keep meaning to ring just to mention these constant attacks in the press and the media in general on Ed Miliband as though he’s ineffective. Now I must say for myself as a Labour Party member I did not vote for Ed Miliband to be Leader of the Labour Party. I voted for his brother David because I know David Miliband, I’ve met him some eight or nine times and I picked him out as a Leader of the Labour Party in 2004. I met him at a conference and I thought how able he was but I must say for myself as someone that didn’t vote for Ed, I think he’s doing a splendid job, I think he’s put his finger on the pulse on many of the things that concern most of us in Britain today, the cost of our energy, electricity, gas, err rail fares, errm and all that type of thing.

ROGER PHILLIPS
but he’s not getting the ratings

COUNCILLOR WALTER SMITH
and he’s certainly doing a great job.

ROGER PHILLIPS
but he’s not getting the ratings Walter whatever you say, people you know give Cameron better ratings.

COUNCILLOR WALTER SMITH
Well Roger whenever was errm the Leader of the Opposition ever getting the rating? I remember Jim Callaghan was streets ahead of Mrs. Thatcher in 1979. Did we get elected?

ROGER PHILLIPS
Alright Walter, I need to leave it there but thank you very much.

COUNCILLOR WALTER SMITH
Well listen Roger, you are the media, you know, I know you’re well read, you keep up to date with everything and I tell you I, it’s interesting the Leader of the Opposition never err

ROGER PHILLIPS
gets the ratings

COUNCILLOR WALTER SMITH
gets the sort of vote that you think

ROGER PHILLIPS
Alright,

COUNCILLOR WALTER SMITH
that he should.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Alright, thanks a lot for that. Cheers Walter.

COUNCILLOR WALTER SMITH
Nice to speak to you anyway, all the best Roger. Good bye.

ROGER PHILLIPS
Well that was Councillor Walter Smith.

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