All empires fall. It happened to the Romans, the Mongols, even us Brits. More recently, there is no doubt in Exeter at least, Labour is now an empire. Dominating the city council, backed by a sizeable property portfolio and a team of paid professional staff, Exeter Labour has more resources in the city than all the other political Parties combined.
With such mighty means it is small wonder the Labour machine has risen to such dizzying local heights. However, like all empires at the peak of their power controversy, complacency and corruption constantly threaten to bring them down.
The current controversy surrounds the rather dubious decision to demolish Clifton Hill sports centre. The public outcry has been deafening. Yet so complacent are Exeter Labour, the decision to sell the soon-to-be vacant site (without so much as a public consultation) was recently railroaded through council amidst a storm of public anger.
Is this necessarily corrupt though? The dictionary definition of corruption is ‘dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power’. True Labour are in power, at least currently. It’s also true a number of the residents reaching out to me over the past few weeks appear to regard Labour’s Clifton Hill conduct to be both dishonest and fraudulent.
For example one resident in particular has questioned Labour’s honesty over the alleged cost of repairing the sports centre. This resident contacted the council to ask how the suggested bill of millions had been arrived at. When he was denied he sent a drone to capture footage of the broken roof which has been cited as a major barrier towards saving Clifton Hill. This resident proceeded to contact a commercial roofing firm who in turn claim the cost of repair is closer to thousands rather than millions.
Of course, having never been atop any roof myself let alone a commercial one, I cannot comment on the accuracy of these claims. However, if Labour haven’t been fraudulent in their claims towards the costs of saving Clifton Hill, the full structural survey they will have commissioned should published for all to see. Only then can Exeter have the confidence these costs have not been inflated to suit political ends.
Last week another resident asked me whether I thought any ‘backhanders’ had been given to secure the astonishingly quick decision to quit Clifton Hill. I replied I wasn’t aware of any and in any case there are rules in place to prevent this sort of thing. However, when a different resident suggested Labour’s prodigious property portfolio (situated adjacent to Clifton Hill) might get more than a little boost from the sale of the site, I started to wonder whether this decision needed looking into.
Anti-corruption rules apply to all Councillors no matter what Party they are in. Rules are particularly tight where money is concerned and Councillors must declare an interest and usually refrain from voting where any conflict exists. Exceptions can be granted but of course, the custom is to request this in advance. Myself and others are sufficiently concerned to have written urgently to the head of legal at the council, calling for an immediate investigation.
If Labour Councillors haven’t declared an interest in a council decision that arguably increases the value of their neighbouring holdings, this is potentially very serious. Even if an exemption was granted, the situation is still open to question. After all, Labour’s ownership of offices and residential properties next to the site is a matter of public record. Moreover, it seems common sense that demolishing a neighbouring commercial construction in favour of what is likely to be high-end Newtown housing will improve both the desirability and value of your assets.
The question therefore is, are Exeter Labour corrupt or just careless? I hope the forthcoming investigation reveals the truth. After all, as the great democrat and longstanding Labour MP Tony Benn used to say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.