It’s official – elections where only the “ayes” get to speak are just fine! #Manchester

Yesterday the Leader of Manchester City Council, who has been there since 1996, was re-elected again. What made the whole thing hilarious was that the presiding official, the Lord Mayor, forgot to ask how many people were opposed. I wrote to the City Solicitor. She has written back saying everything is fine, nothing to see here…

Because that is this City, where the rules are for suckers, and sometimes (often) they forget to pretend.

There’s that over-used expression “you couldn’t make it up.” Well, you could, but nobody would think it was either funny or plausible. They’d just think it was tawdry and demeaning…

Here’s my letter, and below it, the City Solicitor’s reply.

Dear Ms Ledden,

I am sure it did not escape your razor-sharp legal eye that there was a procedural error today at Annual Council.
There was only one nomination for Leader of the Council, so there did not have to be a formal tally of votes, it’s true.
However, the Lord Mayor, perhaps overcome with surprise at getting a second term, when conducting the election of the Leader, merely asked for an acclamation of the ayes. That is to say, he did not ALSO ask for those opposed to get the chance to give voice to their opposition.
This seems like 

a) a bracingly honest demonstration of how things actually work in this City, where democratic norms, conventions and rules are (dis)honoured in the breach.

b) one of those unfortunate “the curtain has slipped and everyone can see” moments

c) a senior moment

d) all of the above.

My question is this – what is the legal standing of the Leader of the Council, given that the Westminster-style procedural norms have not been adhered to at Annual Council on Weds 19th May?
Assuming that the Annual Council is not going to be reconvened to address this (and I have taken out a second mortgage to bet on this NOT happening),  and that your reply will be along the lines of 
“The Leader was elected in the usual manner as he has been these last 25 times”,
then does this now establish a legal precedent that future votes for Leader of the Council will proceed simply on a few people saying “aye” and there being no opportunity for those saying “no” to even speak? Are we moving into the truly post-political world that so many academics have told us about?
What an interesting precedent that will be!
Yours sincerely
Dr Marc Hudson

Ms Ledden’s reply

Thank you for your email, of yesterday, I note your concerns.

I can confirm the election of the leader conformed with the necessary requirements.

There was, as pointed out by you no other nominations before the Council and the affirmative response from the chamber confirmed the election following both a nomination and a seconder.

You are not correct to say no opportunity of those with opposing comments or those wishing to express dissent to be heard indeed Councillor Leech made a speech in respect of nominations to Committees and the microphones were set up to enable that to take place.

Thank you for your continued interest in these matters.

Kind regards

Fiona Ledden

So, the precedent is now there, with the stamp of approval of the City’s chief law bod. At any given election, the Lord Mayor can say all those in favour say “aye”. Then, no matter if only a few people say “aye”, as long as there were no other nominations, it’s a done deal. Happy times.

Posted in humour, Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Sometimes they forget to even pretend, aka more gruesome contempt for democratic norms and conventions in Manchester

He didn’t even pretend to try to defend the indefensible. Maybe he forgot to. Maybe he can’t. Maybe he is just beyond caring. Who knows? But those of us forced to watch it (95 councillors and a grand total of one member of the actual public) were not edified by Councillor Pat Karney’s display, nor were they under real (I’ll come back to that) illusions about power in this city, about whether the leadership give a damn about real action on climate change.

Forgetting to pretend #1 – of Karney, Leech and Nunney

At one point in today’s Annual Council, the Council’s sole Liberal Democrat, John Leech, got to make a speech (starts at 19mins 45 seconds). In response to the report of who was going to get onto which committee, he pointed out that the new Councillor Robert Nunney (Green Party, Woodhouse Park) had not been given his first pick of Scrutiny Committee (there is a long-standing convention that this happens). Leech suggested – entirely plausibly – that this is a sign of a Council that is actively seeking NOT to be criticised for its appalling under-achievement on climate change. Leech didn’t mention, but could have, that the City has burned through a quarter of its carbon budget for the 21st century in the last two years alone. See bottom of this post for a comment that Robert Nunney prepared yesterday about not being appointed to Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee. Nunney did not, by the way, know that Leech was going to raise the issue today).

In response, Labour’s Pat Karney did not even attempt to address the substance of what Leech said, nor even acknowledge it. He did not offer any justification for Nunney getting none of his top three picks. Instead he chose to dredge up and incoherently recount some ancient history about Leech and the Christie Hospital. While this garbled anecdote “worked” to distract, and perhaps remind some Labour councillors of past battles, it did nothing for Manchester, it did nothing for democracy. It was another nauseating display of brazen contempt for democratic norms. Another day in Manchester.

Forgetting to pretend #2 – of the Lord Mayor and the Leader of the Council

The Lord Mayor asked for nominations for Leader of the Council. To everyone’s shock and surprise, Pat Karney nominated Richard Leese. There were a few desultory yeses when the question of who would second the nomination. You could hear a pin drop and an angel weeping when the Lord Mayor asked if there were any other nominations.

Then the Lord Mayor asked for those in favour of Leese. There was a ragged broadside of yeses.

And… that was it.

He forgot to ask how many were opposed. There would have been some. We know this from the vote last night in Labour Group.

But the Lord Mayor forgot to ask. (clock it at 14 mins 50 seconds here.)

They’re forgetting to pretend to go through the rituals. I am not sure if this actually invalidates the election and they have to do the whole schemozzle again. I will ask the City Solicitor, just for the lulz. But the look, the look is not good…

Forgetting to pretend #3 – not all councillors are Labour and there is a difference between the Labour Party and the Council

Check out Pat Karney’s speech, which was a Labour Party announcement rather than a welcome to new councillors.

The work of pretending

After the meeting I was stood outside the Convention Centre. I raised the fact that Robert Nunney had not got any of his top three picks for Scrutiny Committees with various Labour councillors. The (non)responses fell into the following categories

Real versus fake illusions, aka “It’s all too complicated”

I got this from someone who is clearly used to being able to fly under the radar and when confronted with clear evidence that senior members of their tribe are behaving unforgivably, play the “oh, what would little old me know” card. The obvious response – which I didn’t give, because life is short and why waste my breathe is – if you find such a clear and easy-to-understand thing as this too complicated, then why on earth are you fit to deal with genuinely complex issues as a councillor? Should you not do the honourable thing and resign?

Or is it that you’re perfectly capable of understanding, but the cost of understanding would be too high, so you don’t?

“It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment”

This one came from someone with fear in their eyes. This one is by those people who haven’t yet fully lobotomised themselves in the service of Loyalty to the Party, who still can tell when bad things are happening, but also know they don’t (no longer have or never had) the spine to speak up or out about it. But still want to believe they would/will. At some point. Just not today, you understand.

“Show me where it is written down”

This is just legalistic nonsense. Conventions are not written down. The British constitution is famously, not written down. Everyone knows there are conventions, norms etc. It’s saying “well, if it isn’t actually actively excluded then we can do it and it’s fine.” It’s the cynical move of someone who knows that if they had to admit what other councillors admit – and that they themselves would normally admit – then they’d be on the spot.

I’m the real victim here (“everything is always about me”)

Which means “If someone else got something, it would mean I didn’t, and I am the hero/centre of the universe/most important person ever.” It was at this point I just gave up.

What it all means and what is to be done.


What it all means is that black is white, white black and nothing is true and everything is possible and everything is allowed. It means that the Labour Group is run by a small number of people who are willing and able to ride roughshed over democratic norms. It means that they remain committed to a failed policy of spin and perception management when it comes to climate change, that they are not interested in actual scrutiny by anyone they cannot maintain some level of control over.

While some (and the number is growing) Labour councillors feel mild or extreme unease or even displeasure, those in charge know that they are safe for a little while yet.

What is to be done? We who understand what democratic norms and conventions are, and what they do for all of us, have to try to defend them, to speak out when they are traduced. I know that sounds pompous, but there you have it.

We who understand just how perilous our species’ situation is need to do the hard work of watching, explaining, proposing, supporting each other, challenging.

Fwiw, I think we are completely screwed. I think we will go technofix-y fascist quite soon and that will “fail” and then it really all will fall apart. But I choose to use the heritage of the Enlightenment to keep doing pompous-sounding things. So sue me. Or join me/us.

That statement by Robert Nunney – Green Party councillor – from last night.

To my surprise I was elected today to a committee that wasn’t any of my three preferences that council asked me to choose.  However, future generations need a green voice and I will join Children and Young People Committee with enthusiasm. The opportunities this position presents will hopefully allow me to champion social and environmental justice issues. We need  to improve air quality around schools, help families choose active travel as well as prepare young people for green jobs of the future. I would like to see more provision in parks for children with accessibility challenges, more after school youth groups especially engaging in local environmental projects. 

Posted in Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Hough End playing fields, #Manchester and Olympian levels of spin

If you think the Hough End “sports village” is about South Manchester softball teams having somewhere to play, well then, I have a bridge in Sydney to sell you.

This is about Manchester’s (inter)national sporting profile. Once you understand that, the lack of interest in local active travel slots into place. The disdain for wildlife (screw the hedgehogs, they don’t vote), slots into place.

The words to watch for are words like “regional” and “pathway”. These are code for “national and international”.

In the coming month(s) a lot of breath will be expended to convince local people who are opposed to the proposed enclosures, pavings and wildlife killing that they are being selfish NIMBYs who don’t understand what is going on. A lot of soothing words will be prattled about healthy lifestyles, physical activity.

But what will get glossed over is that this is not about south Manchester softball teams and their need for a new home. Few will point out that sport has been used as a way of putting Manchester “on the map” since the mid-1980s. It’s passed into folklore now, but the two bids to host the Olympic Games were the pathway (to use a term I heard repeatedly from Council officers at the consultation event this morning) by which elected politicians and business leaders came to a rapprochement after some seriously bad blood in the 70s and 80s.

Since successfully bidding to host the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Manchester City Council has continued to use sport as a way of branding the City – think the Velodrome, the Aquatic Centre, various sporting extravaganzas.

Sport is money, sport is reputation.

Hough End is not on that scale, of course, but it’s part of the bigger picture. Once you have some softball and baseball facilities, nicely placed near motorways and an airport, just watch the effort in turning it into a “destination facility”, with further development possible because the locals have become dispirited, apath-ised..

It may be the case that the various eloquent and informed folks who have very good grounds to object will be able to coalesce around a set of specific concerns. It may be that they are able to either significantly modify or completely push back the Council’s proposals. Or it may be that they are unable to co-ordinate, and cohere around some of the ecological impacts and local traffic impacts (or even, gasp, the climate impacts).

Regardless, Manchester City Council can be relied on to do what it has done previously, with sham consultations (Great Ancoats St, anyone?) and simply falsifying community feeling (Hyde Road widening, anyone?). We will see various local councillors agonise, wring their hands but mostly, ultimately, vote the way they are expected to. The calculation is that the majorities in the relevant wards are so enormous, the likelihood of a sustained political mobilisation against them that leads to electoral defeat so low, that decision-making that goes against a vocal minority (or even majority) of local residents’ wishes is a chance worth taking. Worst case scenario? A couple of councillors lose their seats. It’s just a risk they’ll have to take…

Dr Marc Hudson, 10th May, personal capacity.

Posted in Hough End | 1 Comment

What next for #climate action in #Manchester – never mind the ballots? #instapunditry #unsolicitedadvice #institutionalwork

TL:DR – it comes down to citizen action. It was always going to come down to citizen action, it will always come down to citizen action. Party politics is a) the shadow cast on society by big business (Dewey) and b) show business for ugly people. “Salvation” comes from citizen action. This article “analyses” (glibly glosses) the Conservatives, the Lib Dems, the Greens and Labour in #Manchester, speculates on what is coming up and closes out with that hardy perennial “what is to be done?” (Did I mention citizen action?).

First off, I suck at predictions. Take everything that follows with that in mind. I guessed plus two Lib Dems and plus zero Greens. What happened? Minus one Lib Dem and plus one Green.

Second, read the disclaimer at the end of this article.

Third, saddle up, mofos. If you want any sort of in-the-same-universe-as-adequacy response to the climate catastrophe, you ain’t getting it from our elected Lords and Masters. Nor from our unelected ones. As someone once said, we are the ones we have been waiting for…

Fun facts. There are 32 wards in Manchester – from Higher Blackely in the north to Woodhouse Park in the south. 3 councillors per ward. Each councillor gets a four year term. Elections usually take place 3 years out of 4.

Before today it was 92 Labour, 2 Lib Dem, two vacancies.

Now it is 94 Labour, 1 Lib Dem, 1 Green.

What does it mean for climate action? What role does each other parties play in this ecosystem? What next for each of them? What, more broadly, does the future look like for Manchester? What are “we” non-party-hack people of good-ish faith supposed to do? Also, that disclaimer.

Conservatives

The Tories are simply not a force here, and they know it. They run paper candidates, don’t bother to respond to invites to take part in hustings, don’t get their candidates to respond to climate commitments. They come a distant second in a handful of wards. Nationally they make a good (in several senses) excuse for the City Council’s inaction on a bunch of things that the City Council could be acting on. Beyond that, locally, fuggedaboutit.

Lib Dems

Oh my they will be disconsolate. In 2010 they had a third of the council seats in this city, chaired two scrutiny committees, thought they might take over in another 5 years with some luck. Then Nick Clegg did his deal to get a limo and some red boxes, thus enabling Cameron and Osborne and their vicious class war. Manchester voters did not forgive, and have not forgotten. The beachhead that they opened up in Didsbury West a few years ago, which saw John Leech followed by two other candidates, is now closing. One of the other two went to Labour, the other lost his seat this time round. The marginal-in-2019 seat of Withington is now safe Labour, and the City Centre did not turn out for them whatsoever.

They now have just the one councillor, Leech (will he sit on any scrutiny committees? We shall see). Labour will come for him at the next election. They will choose an energetic young campaigner (the demographics can be speculated on) and go hard. It’s not like they are defending any marginals elsewhere – they can afford to redirect people and money. Without a phalanx of other Lib Dem councillors who have been getting stuff done, getting name recognition, building morale, Leech will be exquisitely vulnerable. Obviously anything can happen, but the chances of a Lib Dem presence, let alone aresurgence, well… this was a good year to challenge Labour, and it’s not clear future years will be any easier… Some supporters and candidates will head for the exits (others of course will stick around, new ones may show up). Once you lose momentum though, it’s hard to attract and retain new folks (as various environmental groups have found/will find – the dynamics are the same.)

Personal prediction – Labour will take Didsbury West next year, the Lib Dems will not pick up any other seats and it will be 2013 to 2017 all over again…


Greens

I misunderestimated the Greens this year. Partly because I live so far from Woodhouse Park, partly because I was relying on now-outdated knowledge (like everyone else only maybe moreso, I can be intellectually lazy.)

The Greens now have a councillor again, for the first time since 2008.

Which scrutiny commmittee(s) will he sit on? What else will he do? He will obviously want to work very hard on local-to-Woodhouse Park issues, but will he also come out swinging on climate change (he signed up to the 3 climate commitments of Climate Emergency Manchester.

Will the Green Party of today (see above – a different beast to that of 15 years ago) be able to support him effectively in his ward?
What other target wards can the Greens seriously look at? They would need a two or three year strategy (at least!) given the size of Labour’s majorities everywhere else. Three options seem to be Whalley Range (their last target ward – they came unstuck in the all-out election in 2018), Fallowfield (too many students, who don’t vote? too close to the Withington and Moss Side strongholds?) and Piccadilly, where their paper candidate did very nicely indeed. This third option would allow them to talk about air quality but also the skyscraper-itis/developer-friendly ideology of Manchester Labour. They’d need a solid, media-friendly local-to-ward candidate who was definitely up for a minimum of 24 months of back-breaking slog to have even the faintest whiff of a chance…

The Greens will also have to find meaningful work for their new members (they will pick up some new members from this – nothing succeeds like success) and maybe some disaffected Lib Dems, and be (much much) better at retaining them than they were in that green surge of the mid 2010s. Do they have those skills and capacities? We shall see.


Labour

While all around (insert Hartlepool reference, insert Oldham reference blah de blah) Labour strongholds were falling, Manchester is still full of bast…ions of red.

Why? Oh, Brexit/Leave resentment not a thing here. Metropolitan/cosmopolitan. Habit. Inertia. It ain’t that tens of thousands have been lifted out of poverty by well-paid retail and service industry jobs, and the City Council’s ambitious redistributive and social justice efforts, it really isn’t.

What does this mean for climate action? It means that the forces of delay, derision and spin are as strong as ever, if not stronger. If Labour had gotten a bloody nose here (lost 4 seats to Lib Dems, and 1 to the Green), then those who think that a change should come would have had the wind in their sails. That ship has sailed/sunk (as has the image). The Glorious Leader MAY still step down next March (as some unsubstantiated rumour had it). And maybe it is in fact more rather than less likely, now that it would more clearly be his choice. Or maybe TGL will try to go on and on like a certain M. Thatcher. It’s unclear who the Heseltine is though…

Labour will continue to be wedded to the inward investment at all costs model that it has had since the 1987 election defeat of Kinnock. Climate and green issues will be thought of through that prism. The fact that they have suffered precisely zero electoral consequences for either the Great Ancoats St debacle or the Central Retail Park will massively strengthen the hand of the “smear the dirty hippies” brigade. Fun times.

Obviously some Labour councillors (old and new) “get it” and both know and act like it is an emergency (yes, I am in fact saying #NotAllLabourCouncillors). But they remain relatively few, relatively isolated. Others who were in that category have instead decided… well, there are very nasty libel laws in this country, so Imma move on…

What is coming up?

Oh, so a helluva lot is coming up before the actual apocalypse (pencilled in for 2030, since you ask). But of this we shall not speak in depth (because there is an official Climate Emergency Manchester post on this very topic on Monday. But this – the Manchester Climate Change “Agency” is now literally a headless chicken – they’ve failed to appoint a director twice already, and an employee who has been there since it was invented to replace the laughable “Stakeholder Steering Group” of 2010-2015, is moving on to pastures … well, different pastures. They are supposed to be putting together yet another wretched “framework” for the years 2022-5 (everyone’s lost count of how many relaunches, refreshes we are up to now).

They will try to

a) spin their way out of a carbon budget blow-out in September by going on and on and ON about COP26 and Glasgow (climate as opportunity to talk about Manchester on world stage, example 2353)

b) minimise the attack surface by treating the new Environment and Climate Change Scrutiny Committee as shabbily as possible, and then some.

What is to be done?

  • Don’t expect the “parties” to do the heavy lifting (though the Greens will do the best they can).
  • Get involved in a group that is taking the acquisition, sharing and keeping-up-to-date of skills, knowledge and relationships seriously.
  • Get involved in a group that has the stomach, spine, feet, hands, mouth and brains for a prolonged, forensic, granular engagement with these issues, that can hold the Council to account, that can contribute to making a bigger, ever-more-densely-connected network of citizens, residents and organisations so that the truth is both told and acted upon.
  • On climate – and I am obviously entirely biased – I only know one group that comes close to fulfilling all those criteria (though in a year’s time, maybe there will be more).

Which brings us, diminuendo, to the disclaimer…

Disclaimer: The author of this piece, Dr Marc Hudson, is not a member of any political party. Never has been. IS a core group member of the infamous Climate Emergency Manchester. This above is his personal view, has not been seen before publication by any other CEM core grouper, does not represent blah blah etc All rights reserved. Cocker Protocol blah blah.

Posted in Unsolicited advice | Leave a comment

‘Historic moment’ as Green Party win first seat on Manchester City council since 2008

Fun fact – the editor of this website was in Manchester Town Hall for the election count in May 2008 wen the Greens lost their Hulme seat by 50 votes (or may have heard gripping accounts and conflated them. A decade is a long time in politics.) Here below is a press release from the Green Party…

The Green Party has secured its first seat on Manchester City Council in 13 years, after unseating a long-standing Labour incumbent in the local elections on 6 May.

Councillor Rob Nunney was duly elected in the Wythenshawe ward of Woodhouse Park with 1,355 votes, taking the seat from Councillor Brian O’Neil, who has been a councillor in the ward for the last 17 years and received 1,180 votes.

Councillor Nunney and Green Party members have been campaigning in Woodhouse Park for the last three years and hoped to win a seat at the local elections in 2020, but missed out due to the Covid-19 pandemic which postponed all elections.

Winning the ward with 48% of the vote, Rob will now work to put in place his pledges to improve the Woodhouse Park area. 

Councillor Rob Nunney, newly elected member for Woodhouse Park ward in Manchester, said: “This is a historic moment locally for the Green Party as our first seat on the council since 2008, and I’m proud to be representing the residents of Woodhouse Park. I’m grateful to everyone who put their faith in me at the ballot box, and I promise to work hard for them to put pride back into Wythenshawe.

“It is clear that Woodhouse Park residents are tired of the status quo and are ready for a change. I hope not only to listen to their concerns and make sure that local voices are heard on the council, but to provide a fresh Green voice for all of Manchester.”

Rob Nunney will serve the residents of Woodhouse Park on a three-year term until 2024. He joins a small group of councillors who make up the opposition at Manchester City Council.

Manchester Green Party recently launched their local manifesto Our Vision for Manchesterwhich outlines the pledges Cllr Nunney will be pushing for in the council chamber, including ensuring Manchester meets its carbon-neutral target, creating affordable public transport, and protecting green spaces.

Chris Ogden and Stacey Wright, Co-Chairs of Manchester Green Party, said: “Rob has worked incredibly hard for the residents of Woodhouse Park for several years and we are delighted that his hard work has been rewarded. We have no doubt that Rob will be a fantastic servant for the ward.

“We are absolutely ecstatic to take our first seat once more on Manchester City Council, which is the first step to the Green Party’s growth in Manchester.”

Cllr Nunney will join other Green councillors across Greater Manchester’s 10 boroughs including one in Stockport, with further results still awaiting announcement.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Purdah breach? “Nothing to see here” says City Solicitor. But the Tweets have mysteriously vanished.

The City Solicitor of Manchester City Council has, as predicted, said that the City Council tweeting out some [blatant and misleading] eco-tosh was NOT a breach of rules about Councils responsibilities during an election process.

So far so predictable.

What’s more suggestive/amusing is that the offending tweets have…. disappeared from the Council’s twitter feed.

On Saturday MCFly wrote a Freedom of Information Act request about the tweets and any advice the Communications team took/was given about tweeting in the run up to local elections. MCFly also wrote to the City Solicitor, who has the legal responsibility to ensure the rules are abided by. You can read both here.

And we said it would all be brushed aside.

And it was.

The full reply was this –

Dear Dr Hudson,

Thank you for your email in respect of potential breaches of Purdah.

I note your concerns that the tweets in your view exaggerated the success achieved to date, whilst trying to ensure our communications are clear and properly reflect the activity undertaken by the authority I am sorry you considered these to be inaccurate.

You have asked a number of questions:                                                     

  1. The tweets were generated to inform what work has been undertaken in respect of climate change as this is a key priority for the authority. They were generated by the communications team as part of their earth day content marking a significant occasion in encouraging positive action, and checked by a communications business partner planned work program.
  2. I note your request for an apology this seems neither appropriate or proportionate to me.
    1. We currently have some guidance which I will be revisiting as I do after any election to try and ensure the guidance around Purdah rules are met. All communications staff have been reminded of the pre-election guidance.

Your Freedom of Information request will be dealt with by the relevant team in the usual way.

That’s how things WORK in Manchester.

But the deletion of the Tweets? Well, a cynic might call that a tactic admission of guilt…

I’ve written back the following –

Dear Ms Ledden
thank you for your speedy reply.
I would like to know the following. 
1. Do you  agree that it is “extremely important that the Council’s communications are crystal clear, accurate and cannot be perceived as an endorsement of any particular party.”

(I am sure you will say yes).


2. Is there any other body to which I can appeal this matter (the Electoral Commission? An ombudsman?) or are you in fact, again, as you have been on a previous complaint about the conduct of the leader of the Council, the judge, jury and (non)executioner?

3. If the Earth Day Tweets were not problematic, why have they been deleted? Who took that decision?

If you need the last question as a FOIA before you will answer it, please do let me know and I will oblige as speedily as you have deeply considered and responded to this complaint.
Many thanks

Dr Marc Hudson

Posted in Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Flagrant breach of purdah by #Manchester City Council – FOIA and complaint submitted #EarthDay #Climate

tl;dr– Manchester City Council officials have been extremely careless in pumping out propaganda during what is supposed to be a “neutral” time ahead of Thursday 6th May local elections. I’ve submitted a FOIA (will get evasions and replies that don’t amount to answers) and a complaint (which will get brushed off). A history lesson closes things out.

There are elections on Thursday 6th May. In several of the 32 wards there is a serious chance that Labour (which currently holds 91 of the 96 council seats) will lose to opponents who are pushing hard on local environmental issues, mostly around air quality. In the city centre, Ancoats & Beswick, Deansgate and Piccadilly are all “in play” for the Liberal Democrats. The Council’s appalling handling of Great Ancoats St, the Central Retail Park, air quality generally and the hopelessness of its climate emergency “action” are – the Lib Dems hope – going to help them get seats. Further south, there are other issues. In the southernmost ward, Woodhouse Park, the Green Party hopes to unseat a long-standing Labour incumbent.

There are elections on Thursday 6th May. There are rules about how councillors who are up for re-election are supposed to behave. They are not supposed to use Council equipment/resources (including their email accounts). There are supposed to be no big announcements of new policy/spending by Executive Members. And there are rules about how Council officers are supposed to behave. Collectively, these are known as purdah (silence).

Well, on Thursday 22nd April a series of highly inaccurate Tweets were sent out from the official Twitter account of Manchester City Council.

That in itself is no surprise. The Council’s Twitter feed is a relentless firehose of disingenuous propaganda. You get used to it.

There are elections on Thursday 6th May. We are in purdah. Nobody seems to have told the Comms team.

So, I’ve written a Freedom of Information Act request, and I’ve also made a complaint to the City Solicitor. Both will go nowhere, but the standard you walk past is the standard you accept…

The FOIA

Dear Sir/Madam
Not that it affects this FOIA, or any FOIA, but for the sake of clarity, I am not a member now and have never been a member, of any political party.  Not Green, not Labour, not Liberal Democrat, not any Trot groupuscule. Nada, zilch.
I have just seen some tweets sent from the Manchester City Council Twitter account on April 22nd (aka “Earth Day”).  These were highly inaccurate and incomplete mischaracterisations of what the Council has done/not done in the last two years.  That’s what we have come to expect.
HOWEVER, we are in purdah now, ahead of the May 6th elections, and the Council has no business pumping out this sort of propaganda.

Specifically with regard to the tweets

1. Whose bright idea was it to run these tweets during purdah?
2. Who drafted/wrote them? Was it purely comms team staff? I am interested in whether other staff in other directorates, and especially people from City Policy and/or the Climate Change “Agency”  involved.
3. What legal advice, if any, was sought from the City Solicitor about the legality and propriety of running the tweets was sought?  Please provide copies of all the correspondence, if any such correspondence exists.

More generally

4. What training do Comms staff and anyone else responsible for constructing and okaying tweets receive about what is and is not allowable during purdah?  How long does it last? Is it a pure “try to stay awake at the back while I rattle through this deck of excruciating powerpoint slides” or is it actually interactive/real-life?  Please provide copies of that training/the materials
5.  How is this training recorded? How often is this training conducted/refreshed? When did the people who created and also okayed the April 22nd tweets
6. What communication, if any, was sent by the City Solicitor/her staff from January 1st 2021 to the Comms staff around the purdah period for the May 6 elections? Please provide all copies of this, if it exists.

Finally, who do I make a formal complaint to about this?  Those tweets should never have been sent as they stood. It WAS possible to mark Earth Day, but in far less contentious ways, that didn’t breach purdah.
Given that it can take 20 days to get a reply, I am going to write to the City Solicitor separately about this. But I still expect you to tell me.
Actually, while we are at it.
7.  For each of the past three years (calendar, municipal, financial, whatever floats your boat/is easiest), a) how many complaints have been made to the Council about its communications?  b) how many were upheld?c) what changes were put in place so that upheld complaints were acted upon.

Please consider this a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000

Dr Marc Hudson

The complaint

Dear Ms Ledden,

I hope this communication finds you well and enjoying the wonderful weather.
I am addressing this complaint to you in your role as City Solicitor. If you are not the person to whom I should be addressing this complaint, pleasea) forward it to the right personb) cc me in (as in, you have my permission to share my contact details, in case there is any GDPR issue)

My complaint involves what I consider to be a serious breach of the rules surrounding Council officers making public statements during the so-called “purdah” period before local elections.

On Thursday 22nd April a thread of 9 tweets was sent out from the City Council’s official Twitter account.  April 22nd is of course “Earth Day.”
These tweets were NOT an accurate reflection of what has actually been achieved by the Council in the almost two years since the declaration of a Climate Emergency, though they purported to be so.

Given that in several of the 32 wards of the city, environmental/air quality/traffic and yes, climate issues, there are closely-fought contests between the incumbent Labour Party and challengers (Liberal Democrat and Green Party), it is, I am sure you will agree, extremely important that the Council’s communications are crystal clear, accurate and cannot be perceived as an endorsement of any particular party.

It was possible to celebrate/commemorate Earth Day while keeping within both the letter and spirit of purdah, but that is not, in fact, what has happened.

I am happy to detail the inaccuracies and absences in the tweets, and to provide examples of what would have been acceptable tweets if you request.

I am seeking
a) an explanation of how these Tweets came to be generated, and clarity on how they were considered to be purdah-compliant, by who, wen
b) an apology to the people of Manchester for breaching purdah. This would include but not be limited toa prominently displayed statement on the Council’s websitea Pinned Tweet on the Council’s Twitter feed, for a period of a week, with a link to the apologya press release sent out to all the journalists and organisations who are on the Council’s press release that explains the breach of purdah and the apologyThe reading out, by either a senior officer or Executive member, of the statement, during the proceedings of a full council meeting
c) a commitment to and detailed explanation of new systems/training “etc” that would make future breaches of purdah less likely.
d) a donation by the Council to an appropriate and genuinely independent grassroots group (Youth Strike Manchester might be a good start) and to an international charity that does climate justice work (I have a few ideas about that)

I include below a copy of the Freedom of Information Act request that I have sent today (Saturday 24th April) to informationcompliance@manchester.ac.uk for your convenience.

The History Lesson

Back in 2014, there was a new Executive Member for the Environment. I organised an open letter from a whole bunch of different individuals and organisations to the Council, the so-called “Nine Actions”.

Here’s the video I made, with the help of a lot of good people.

One of the nine was that the Executive Member would start a blog that detailed what she was doing around climate change (we didn’t call it a climate emergency back then, thought it bloody well was).

She said she would.

There was a delay

She privately assured me that she would.

And then she said she wouldn’t. It wasn’t “the hill she was going to die on.”

We were told that the officers had told her it couldn’t happen because the environment was “political” and there might be complaints by other parties (there wouldn’t have been).

We submitted a FOIA to get the correspondence between her and officers.

We were ignored. We finally went to the Information Commissioner.

Then, and only then, we got the correspondence.

It was, the most disingenuous horseshit you can imagine. Read it here and weep.

But here we are, six plus years later.

Somehow, a blog, like the Leader of the Council already has, would have been too political in ordinary times.

But sending out hugely misleading “green” pap during purdah? That’s just fine.

And we are supposed to take these Squealers and Napoleons seriously?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Letter: #Climate talk is cheap. Actions matter

Letter in today’s Manchester Evening news

TALK is cheap.I read your article “‘Decisive decade’ in climate change fight,” M.E.N, 23 April) with a sense of deja vu. Almost thirty years ago Manchester City Council hosted a “Global Forum” in the aftermath of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.  Wonderful speeches were made, and the Council launched a “Local Agenda 21” process of citizen engagement. That was shut down by the Council when the citizens decided that a tax on air travel was a good idea.

Has anything changed?  Well, there have been more declarations, including the unanimous climate emergency one in July 2019.  But talk is really really cheap.

The same edition has an article “‘Mobility Hub’ is multi-storey car park, say critics,” which quotes a campaigner who makes the basic point that “Whilst this mobility hub has 150 spaces for bicycles, the city is still lacking the infrastructure to make walking and cycling safe.”

Promises of “trust me” are not enough. We’ve had 30 years of that. What we need are better processes, closer scrutiny and monthly focused attention.

All 149 candidates for local election are being asked if they support three simple low cost proposals put forward by the group Climate Emergency Manchester.

So far only one of the 34 Labour candidates has deigned to reply.  That person, ironically, is the city’s lead member on walking and cycling.  Why ironically? Despite the £9m Great Ancoats St debacle, she said she did not support the proposals.


Dr Marc Hudson

editor of Manchester Climate Monthly

Posted in Letters to the MEN | Leave a comment

Great Ancoats St, Executive powers, consultation: A FOIA

This below was sent to informationcompliance@manchester.gov.uk this morning. Watch this space.

Dear Sir/Madam, 
I am interested (some might say “obsessed”) around council decision-making processes on the European boulevard also known as Great Ancoats St. (GAS).


As you may recall, in July 2019 the members of the Neighbourhoods and Environment Scrutiny Committee (now minimally rebranded as something else, but that’s another story), discussed the consultation process around the Great Ancoats St resurfacing, sorry “transformation.”

Letter about the need for more scrutiny
This letter published in the MEN (27/8/20) was not sent in the FOIA. I am not a monster.

The members of the committee, all elected, put a recommendation that the proposed work, due to start imminently, be paused while a consultation worthy of the name was held.  That was their recommendation to “the Executive.”


Now, we in the public gallery got a real political education shortly after when one of us (I won’t be coy, it was I) wrote to a Council officer (sadly now retired) who was as helpful as I hope you will be. He told us that “Executive” has multiply meanings, and that in this case could simply mean Executive Member.

And the Executive *Member* decided to simply ignore the recommendation. In September 2019 the Committee unanimously expressed its dismay. The work went ahead and was a complete clus… well, there are rules about swearing in FOIAs, so let’s move on.

So, my questions are these.

1.  Does a scrutiny committee have the power to specify ITS understanding of “Executive” when making recommendations?  If it made a recommendation that “we recommend that the Executive – by which we mean the 8 elected members and the SMT – look at this again” would this have had any legal standing/constrained the, ah let’s call them, prerogatives, of the individual politician who chose to say “L’Executive? C’est moi” on this occasion?

2. If a scrutiny committee does NOT have this power, is it not the case that any given Executive Member can simply disregard recommendations that any scrutiny committee makes, rendering the whole um, “process” a… what might the phrase be… clus… I mean pantomime?  Oh yes it is? Oh no it isn’t? Please inform.

3.  Specifically around the Great Ancoats St debac… decision, I would like to copies of any and all correspondence, for the period 1st July 2019 to 1st November 2019 between the Executive Member for “Environment,” Transport and Planning and the City Solicitor and her office around the legal position of the first consultation, the need/desirability for a do-over.

4. Given that this decision was of great interest to the Council’s member for walking and cycling, I would like copies of any and all correspondence, for the period 1st July 2019 to 1st November 2019 between the member for walking and cycling (I heard a rumour that it is Mandie Shilton-Godwin) and the Executive Member for ETP and between her and the City Solicitor/her officers.I am particularly interested in whether there was any correspondence, initiated by any of above parties, about the GAS, before or after the July NESC meeting.  Given that this decision, to not have cycle lanes, should have been of very great interest to the member for walking and cycling, I expect there is a vast amount of correspondence between the parties.  Fingers crossed I am not disappointed, and that my overweening process obsession can find momentary satiation.

Thanks,

Marc Hud….

Sorry, almost forgot!  Please consider this a Request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Dr Marc Hudson

[address supplied]

Posted in Manchester City Council | Leave a comment

Letter: the Climate “Agency” farce continues

The Manchester Evening News kindly published my latest letter.

FOR a year and a half Manchester City Council has been trying to appoint a director to its so-called Climate Change “Agency.” It advertised in late 2019, extensively and nationally.  It didn’t appoint anyone (or announce that it hadn’t). 

It tried again in late 2020, extending the deadline at least once. The interview panel included the deputy CEO of the Council, and the Executive Member for the Environment. The job was offered to someone, but the successful applicant withdrew.  

The Council is now trying a third time, but offering no additional money, with a disingenuous advert and a very tight deadline.Presumably this is because they don’t want their ongoing failure to appoint anyone to be an election issue, and because they want someone – anyone, probably, at this stage, “nearest warm body will do” – in post to spout nonsense during July’s two year anniversary of the climate emergency declaration, and to spout even more nonsense at November’s international climate conference in Glasgow.

If Manchester is – as various Councillors keep insisting – the UK’s leading city on climate, how come nobody competent and serious wants the job? Could it be that competent and serious people can see that the Council has spent ten years spinning and taking claiming credit for carbon cuts caused by austerity. Could it be they don’t want to tank their credibility and self-respect by joining a sinking ship?

Dr Marc Hudson

editor of Manchester Climate Monthly

Posted in Letters to the MEN, Manchester City Council | 1 Comment