On the day of the Autumn Statement, when both sides of the House of Commons do their best to lower themselves in the public’s estimation by acting like a gang of playground-bully boors, how depressing it was to learn that at a local level politicians were acting in an equally dismal manner.
But it’s not uncouth behaviour; instead our disappointment springs from the farce that is the creation of a sub-committee to investigate whether Portsmouth City Council leader, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson, has acted inappropriately by sending out some party invitations on council headed paper.
Cllr Vernon-Jackson says it was a clerical error that happened in his absence. We’re inclined to believe him, but that’s not the issue here.
The main point to be made is that this is a ridiculous waste of time and effort. Given that it centres around whether a sum of £70 of public money has been misused, the fact that the inquiry will cost several hundred pounds is the stuff of bad bureaucratic satire.
One councillor, Phil Smith of the Liberal Democrats, suggests: ‘We have no reason not to consider it [just] because it seems trivial.’
We disagree. The fact that it is trivial is every reason not to press forward. If an established organisation with considerable manpower and a budget of millions cannot sort out a squabble over £70 in a few minutes, what hope do we have for the city’s future? Cllr Vernon-Jackson either pays it back or he doesn’t. Easy.
Secondly, this investigation acts as a black mirror to that into the conduct of Cllr Mike Hancock, in which the allegations are infinitely more serious.
Presuming neither guilt nor innocence, we have no issue with the existence of that inquiry – in fact quite the opposite. We have said before that it would be better for all concerned were it to be wrapped up as soon as possible, because as it stands it leaves too many people in limbo.
But to set up a similar panel to investigate Christmas party invitations goes beyond attentiveness. It’s petty, demeaning and an utter waste of time.