One should never underestimate the guile of the criminal classes, any more than one should underestimate the gullibility of the political classes. Very often, both groups share common traits, such as all-consuming personal ambition (whether for money, position or power); but, in general terms, they follow very different routes in pursuit of their goals. As one example of this, I have just published a book (Amazon – “The Gangsters, the Judge, and the Politician”) which describes just one controversial interface between criminality and the political world. Although this book looks at this phenomenon in the national context, it might easily have been placed in the context of local government.
I thought of this when I heard of the latest instance of disarray in the conduct of Wirral Borough Council. How easy for the dishonest individual to operate when councillors and officers seem incapable of clear communication between themselves. Even more so in Liverpool, where the perpetrators of well-documented development scams continue to operate with impunity under the myopic gaze of the council. I must say that it strikes me as absurd that local council leaders should be at the annual MIPIM developers’ junket in Nice whilst there is so much evidence of on-going criminality involving developers here at home. Mind you, I have never understood why it is necessary for political leaders to posture at such events as MIPIM when generally, their knowledge of building and development – and its associated finance – is sublimely deficient.
Admittedly, there has been a critical national dimension to what has been happening in our major conurbations. An obsessive culture of deregulation and a laissez-faire approach to governance, needs to be addressed nationally. The harsh reality is that no-one – councillors, officials, auditors, even the police – seems to be taking the kind of robust investigation and action required to inhibit widespread corrupt activity. Naturally, I must assume that much of what people rightly complain about is technically legal, although how acknowledged scam artists are able to repeatedly set up sham companies and rip people off (including councils!), is beyond my comprehension.
The immediate problem for the voter and the council tax payer is simple. They are constantly assailed by mixed messages. On the one hand, they are deluged under cries of “Austerity!” at every turn, whether in connection with cuts or inefficiencies in local services, or as the reason for increases in their council taxes. At the same time, voters are increasingly aware of massive amounts of expenditure, used – for good or ill – in ways which they do not believe are in their interest.
There are simultaneous promises of jam tomorrow – a plan for this development, high hopes for that one. Too often, these either repeat or contradict previous pronouncements. The electorate is not totally amnesiac, nor is it perpetually forgiving. Voters are taken for fools at the peril of politicians.
We are in turbulent times, locally and nationally. I have never known such disillusionment at all levels with politics and with politicians; and I wonder to where what amounts to widespread studied contempt will lead. I believe that at the local level, there is an urgent need to re-examine the public interest – that of the majority – rather than what so many see as the preferment of private interests. Right now, no-one appears to be speaking for the council tax payer, yet business, including the aforementioned crooks, is being indulged in a way contrary to the interests of the mass of voters. For how long, I wonder, will this be tolerated?