Wirral Council [The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy] says, is one of the most perplexing organisations known to mankind. It’s motto is "by faith and foresight".
Those unfortunate individuals who have experienced its public meetings have said the experience is far worse than listening to Vogon poetry (the third worst poetry in the universe). It is hard to put into words the experience of a public meeting at Wirral Council, but to give one example one evening Wirral Council so upset the universe that nearby buildings owned by Wirral Council spontaneously collapsed to the ground merely to bring one public meeting to an end. People have been witnessed leaving meetings in tears or having to leave suddenly as the whole process made them feel ill.
It is a well-known fact across the universe that politicians seem unable to answer questions (leaving some people to wonder what planet they’re actually from). However at Wirral Council politicians have made this frankly useless skill that would in any other profession get you the sack, into the sort of art form that you’d wonder if they’d actually received a performance arts grant for this from Arts Council England.
Even if by some one in a million chance, your question isn’t consumed by the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal before a politician gets a chance to read it (or said politician hasn’t been bamboozled (which we are told by our own legal team that we have to clarify is the meaning of bamboozle to confuse) by Chief Bamboozler at Wirral Council Mr Tour first, a politician will not give you an accurate answer to the question you’ve asked. You see despite being highly paid, politicians at Wirral Council are reduced to doing something a seven-year old could do and given answers to read out that are written by other people. This is what politicians call "research".
If really pushed for an answer a politician will promise to send you a written answer (which in some cases you will not receive). This system has evolved over time so that the employees of Wirral Council aren’t put under threat by a politician actually having the chance to say anything.
A whole new industry has grown up at Wirral Council to deal with whistleblowers. Whistleblowers are seen as a threat to the smooth running of Wirral Council and persuading the public that black is indeed white. In fact anything outside Wirral Council (and indeed inside such as the trade unions) is seen as a threat to the smooth running of Wirral Council. Therefore information is controlled. English laws (in fact Wirral Council does not recognise the law as applying to it unless it decides it wants to) such as freedom of information do not apply and if Wirral Council was a country America would be referring to it a rogue state.
However back to whistleblowers. Wirral Council has a secret (not subject to freedom of information) playbook for dealing with whistleblowers and troublemakers (a category which covers pretty much everybody including its own politicians) which if it actually considered the law applied would be banned as it would be classed as a cruel and unusual punishment.
Step 1 is whistleblowers will be told they are not being "reasonable". Completely missing the irony that Wirral Council is under a legal duty to be reasonable (which it rarely is), this can be combined with lying to the world and stating whistleblowers are flat out wrong. If the word reasonable doesn’t work, whistleblowers are told they’re "inappropriate" instead.
If a whistleblower isn’t fobbed off in this way and doesn’t fall at the first hurdle and takes some bold step such as telling the press and/or regulators step 2 is employed.
Step 2 is more tricky for Wirral Council as even step 1 can spectacularly backfire (despite highly paid PR advisers). At step 2 the whistleblower is thanked, but told that Wirral Council is seeking legal advice. Properly employed this tactic can stall matters for months. Therefore nothing is done until that advice is received (this advice will however remain confidential). If by some fluke Wirral Council receives legal advice it doesn’t want, it can ask for more until it receives advice it wants to hear. At this stage Wirral Council sincerely hopes the whistleblower will just give up and not force it to step 3.
Step 3 depends on whether denying what the whistleblower stated would get you laughed at and accused of perjury if you tried it in a court of law. By this point the game is up, so it is admitted that mistakes were made in the past (although no individuals can ever be found to be accountable), lessons have been learnt and an action plan has been drawn up with recommendations to make sure it never happens again. This is known in PR terms as a partial hangout. The whole fiasco is never admitted, but it is hoped that by admitting (what by now is in the public domain anyway) that the political pressure will drop and people will "move on".
There used to be a different stage 3 which was paying whistleblowers to keep their mouths shut, but it didn’t seem to be effective.
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JOHN BRACE: Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed about Lyndale School.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: You’re welcome. We have watched your news broadcasts about this school and are frankly confused. Back on Mars we would be asking our politicians to resign if they behaved as yours do. Why do your politicians think they can get away with being like this?
JOHN BRACE: Well they don’t operate under Martian law for a start. British law gives them wide latitude to do what they like within reason.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Well our politicians always tell us they’re on the side of the people, how come yours aren’t?
JOHN BRACE: Well that’s difficult to say. The yellow, blue and green politicians have said they are. The red ones are being careful not to express an opinion.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: “Not to express an opinion”! If we had politicians like that it would spark a revolution!
JOHN BRACE: We’re too polite for revolutions here, the most the British tend to do if they’re cross is write a grumpy letter.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Does that work?
JOHN BRACE: Sometimes.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So getting back to Lyndale, can you explain it simply in terms we can understand?
JOHN BRACE: If someone could they would have. Money is taken off the people in the form of taxes. These taxes are then used for services such as education and schools such as Lyndale.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Yes, we have schools for our young Martians too.
JOHN BRACE: The politicians decide how the money is spent and what on. They’ve decided to spend it on Lyndale this year, but have yet to make their minds up about next year.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So what’s changed?
JOHN BRACE: Well, there’s been a consultation about closing the school. This is because of lack of money, but everyone’s also been told it won’t save any money and could in fact cost more.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: That sounds very confusing.
JOHN BRACE: It is. The other reason given is that the school is small.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: What’s the problem with small schools then?
JOHN BRACE: Seems the bureaucrats don’t like them. More schools means more problems for them.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So this is being done to suit the bureaucrats?
JOHN BRACE: Well no, the politicians decided on this.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why?
JOHN BRACE: Because the bureaucrats told them too.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: These bureaucrats sound like they have more power than the politicians.
JOHN BRACE: Well we’ll leave that discussion for another day. The bureaucrats blame it on the government.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: What’s “the government”?
JOHN BRACE: Another set of politicians.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So let’s recap, one set of politicians “the government” is used as a reason by the bureaucrats to persuade another set of politicians to close the school?
JOHN BRACE: Almost right, but “the government” deny that they want to close the school.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: I’m confused again.
JOHN BRACE: So am I.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Wouldn’t it be easier if we just invaded Wallasey Town Hall and promised not to close the school?
JOHN BRACE: Maybe it would, but sadly as you’re a fictional character it won’t happen.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: A shame, I was looking forward to invading your planet. So going back to Lyndale, apart from confusing arguments about money and its small size is there any other unstated reason why they want to shut it?
JOHN BRACE: Well the person in charge of special educational needs left and a new guy came in. Some people don’t like him.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why don’t they like him?
JOHN BRACE: For a wide variety of reasons I won’t go into because it’ll probably lead to another libel threat.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: What’s that?
JOHN BRACE: Where Wirral Council threaten to sue you for telling the public the truth.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Can they do that?
JOHN BRACE: No they can’t, our laws don’t allow it but sometimes they get a little cheesed off with me.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why would they have issues with someone telling the truth about them?
JOHN BRACE: Because they have been known in the past not to tell the truth, if the public hears two mutually contradictory versions of the same thing they tend to assume Wirral Council is lying.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So why would they lie?
JOHN BRACE: The less the public know about what goes on, the easier it is for them to do things. If the public do find out they can get quite grumpy and ask the politicians to do something about it.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Ahh, so the public have been asking the politicians to do something about Lyndale?
JOHN BRACE: Yes.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So if the red politicians are so gung-ho about closure that must mean lots of people have asked them to close it?
JOHN BRACE: No, quite the opposite the majority of people have told the red politicians not to close it.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: I’m confused again, I thought the politicians were supposed to be on the side of the people.
JOHN BRACE: Well you’d hope so, but not always. Generally the public don’t get a say in political decision-making, it all gets carved up by the establishment.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And who or what are the “establishment”?
JOHN BRACE: People with the connections to make sure the decision-making always goes their way.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Wow, they sound very powerful.!
JOHN BRACE: They are.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So why don’t the “establishment” just listen to the people?
JOHN BRACE: Well in public they say they do, in private things are a little more complex. Sometimes different sections of the public ask for two completely different things.
MARVIN THE MARTIN: So they have to use their own judgement on matters?
JOHN BRACE: Yes, but getting back to Lyndale.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Ahh yes Lyndale. You have red, green, blue and yellow politicians who individually don’t seem to understand the “big picture”.
JOHN BRACE: Yes.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: And who all say they’re on the side of the public?
JOHN BRACE: Yes.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: The green, blue and yellow politicians all say they’ll do their best with Lyndale knowing it’s only the red politicians that will decide?
JOHN BRACE: Yes.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: The red politicians are doing this because the bureaucrats told them that they’d have to because of a different set of blue and yellow (but not green) politicians?
JOHN BRACE: Sort of.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: But it’s not about money.
JOHN BRACE: Different answers have been given to that one.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So what is it really about?
JOHN BRACE: Well the school is for disabled children, some of whom thankfully have a sense of humour and laugh at all this.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Good for them, but it’s no “laughing matter”?
JOHN BRACE: You got it it’s a very serious matter.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So why don’t they just let the children decide?
JOHN BRACE: It’s a novel suggestion, but the red politicians wouldn’t allow it no.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Is there another reason why the red politicians could be doing it this way?
JOHN BRACE: Well another red politician called Alison is in a battle with the blues to carry on as a politician.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So is she on the side of the reds or the people?
JOHN BRACE: She would say both. However it would be breaking the rules to use such issues for party political gain.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: But that could explain why the red politicians are keeping quiet?
JOHN BRACE: The red politicians just do what they’re told.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: By who?
JOHN BRACE: The red leader and the Cabinet Member.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why?
JOHN BRACE: Because if they didn’t, they’d be causing trouble and nobody wants to be seen to rock the boat.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So they have to vote for something they may not personally agree with?
JOHN BRACE: Yes.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Sounds strange, I thought they were supposed to represent the people.
JOHN BRACE: At election time yes, but they also represent their party too.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So what will happen about Lyndale?
JOHN BRACE: A solution will have to be found that means the red politicians save face.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: What does that mean?
JOHN BRACE: Well they will need to both blame what’s happened on someone (something they’ve had a lot of practice doing) and come out of it smelling like roses.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: But the public think something stinks?
JOHN BRACE: Yes they do, but as I said before the public aren’t the establishment.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: I see, so it’s terribly complicated isn’t it? The blue, green and yellow politicians can say what they like because they don’t make the decisions. The red politicians do make the decision but won’t talk. The bureaucrats have told the red politicians it’s all the blue and yellow politicians’ (but not green politicians’) fault. The shadowy “establishment” always gets its own way and basically the wishes of the children, staff, public are pushed to one side and politely ignored?
JOHN BRACE: In a nutshell, but it’s a little more complicated than that. There’s also a group called the media or press that is powerful too.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Ahh, you haven’t mentioned them yet!
JOHN BRACE: Well I’m part of them so I have. The broadcast (TV), print (newspaper), online (blogs) have all decided to side with the school.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why’s that?
JOHN BRACE: Well the media don’t have to give reasons, but they think the politicians are being unfair by picking on people that can’t stick up for themselves.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: But they are!
JOHN BRACE: That’s a matter of opinion.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Only a coward would pick on someone that couldn’t fight back.
JOHN BRACE: Indeed. However the media are powerful because they influence how people think.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Ahh, including the politicians, the establishment, the bureaucrats and the people.
JOHN BRACE: Yes, however there are wider international considerations too. Nobody wants another war.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Why would picking on disabled kids and closing a school start a war?
JOHN BRACE: On its own no, but pandering to society’s prejudices towards the disabled, coupled with the purple party talking about immigration and other factors could.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Ahh there’s a purple party too!
JOHN BRACE: Yes but they really don’t feature in this tale. They have politicians at the European level but not national or local.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Good as we’re starting to run out of colours.
JOHN BRACE: As I was saying, the fragmentation of society by playing off people against each other and scapegoating minorities leads eventually to war.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: Oh dear. Has that happened before?
JOHN BRACE: Yes. Many times which is why measures were put in place to prevent things getting to that stage.
MARVIN THE MARTIAN: So will these “measures” prevent Lyndale being closed?
JOHN BRACE: Who knows? We’ll just have to wait and see.