THE NEWS COMMENT: We'd like to see more decorum in public office displayed by Portsmouth's councillors

Disappointing behaviour by councillors, part 356: the current bickering over the Pompey Dial Ride funding leaked e-mail.

Thursday, 23rd March 2017, 6:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:56 am

In a nutshell, the gist is this: the Pompey Dial Ride service was threatened with closure and was given a £30,000 grant by the council last September. One of those working on the project, Cllr Steve Pitt, was annoyed as he believed that the council was taking glory for giving the grant, while he thought that the service would be given nothing after April.

He phrased it to his Lib Dem colleagues in September that ‘we’ve laid the trap’; which in hindsight may be seen as an unfortunate metaphor.

Then, after the e-mail became public this week, Cllr Pitt and the Lib Dems stand accused of wanting the service to fail because that would be to their political advantage.

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The whole situation is unseemly. The Lib Dems are condemned for politicising the Dial Ride service – while those who are critical of them are also in effect politicising the row.

But politicians have always politicised things; it’s how the system works. When it involves subjects being tested and decisions being analysed from different ideological viewpoints, it can be a healthy state of affairs.

Where this week’s unpleasantness differs is that this is the Twitter era of politics. It’s personalised, brash, lacking nuance and often rude.

Even in a private e-mail to his party colleagues, it’s disappointing to see Cllr Pitt describe the Tory Jim Fleming as a ‘lying toad’. If more councillors abided by the rule of not committing anything to paper or to e-mail that they wouldn’t want pinned up in Guildhall Square, the world would be a happier place.

We have made the point before that councillors need to improve their behaviour, in the council chamber and online. It’s not acceptable that the leader of the Lib Dems has been caught playing Solitaire in a meeting.

But it’s also not acceptable that council leader Donna Jones has referred to him as Gerald Vermin-Jackson. And we haven’t forgotten the e-mail boasts of Tory councillor Scott Harris a year ago when he bragged he was compiling ‘stuff’ on union activists, domestic abuse campaigners and people who – in his view – were asking too many questions of the council.

Our local politicians may think they are in a south coast version of House of Cards, but they are not, and nor do we want them to be. All we want is people working firstly for the benefit of the city, and only secondly for their party affiliation.

Arguments? Fine. Differences? To be expected. Civility and respect? Well, that shouldn’t be too much to ask either.