Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

I had a letter in the post yesterday, from a firm of solicitors. It said "Dear Councillor Baldock" and was referenced "Defamation Services" and a feeling of dread swept over me.

It turned out to be a letter from Kirwan's in Water Street who have set up a political unit apparently, so large must be the demand from Merseyside politicians who are apparently defaming each other left, right and centre. They were merely alerting me to their services and one would hope they had written to lots of councillors, not just me, so that was okay after all.

But I was interested in the feeling of dread, what had brought that on?

Obviously my first gut reaction to the letter was that someone wanted to sue me.

Have I got a guilty conscience? No, I don't think so. I have not of course lived a blameless life, who of us has? Youthful indiscretions, sexual peccadilloes, few of us are entirely innocent. But I find that I often feel dread.

It is probably similar to something the police often experience, when they meet
perfectly innocent people who start going red in the face and shuffling about as though they are about to be found out - or head teachers calling pupils to their studies for the most benign of reasons.

I think it is something to do with being in the public eye, and in politics in particular there is a increased likelihood that one's opposition will find and create reasons to damange that public persona. So I live my life waiting for "the other shoe to drop". I have discussed this with other politicians and some do feel the same. When a journalist phones to ask for your views about a local issue perhaps, you wait for the opening sentence, you wait to hear the tone of the voice before you can decide if this is a harmless call or not. I have got over my fear of the police, because I talk to them every day and am very comfortable with them.

But I cannot shake off that feeling that I am going to be renounced and it does not seem to matter that I have not actually done anything!

I thought I might share that with you, I would be interested in any feedback


scouseboy said...

I think Liverpool politics has become very bitter and personal over the last few years.
This has a negative effect, as it can often stifle honest, open debate.
The mere fact you highlight, the journalist example, and the ensuing distrust, can mean a councillor may not be able to carry out their role as effectively as they would like, due to fear of being misconstrued.
On the other issue, I believe a local polititian, like every other member of society, is entitled to a PRIVATE life.

Jim said...

All councillors got one. I am very unsure that David Kirwan should seemingly be highlighting the fact that he is a councillor in Wirral to tout for business. I always thought that was an abuse of one's position and possibly a matter for the authorities.

Louise Baldock said...

Careful Jim, you dont have to tread the same road as these people. We can all wear several hats at once and at least this bloke, who I dont know is acting from a position of experience. And incidentally I didnt even know he was a councillor (once I could see he wasnt suing me, I didnt read the letter properly)
But if he has done something wrong then I tend to find it best to let someone else make that point rather than step into that particular swamp, otherwise I could become part of the problem myself. Personally I have never referred anyone to the standards committee or the standard board.

Paula Keaveney said...

My take on the letter was that if I were taking action on defamation I wouldn't use a company that touted like this as this is a very specialist area and I got no real sense that they were specialists. I know quite a bit about the laws of libel having been a journalist and also teaching journalists now. I know when I have been libelled ( it has happened in the last year) and when other people are being libelled. I know the defences that can be used (absolute truth is one of them, fair comment when editorialising another). But actually taking action when you have been defamed is a big next step which can potentially cost a fortune and end up taking over your life. Clearly there are times when you have to act to prevent repetition of the offence though.

Re journalists. If you are in public life you have to accept that there will sometimes be questions that you would rather not answer and that "exposes" make careers more than reports about Overview and Scrutiny. It is a sad part of modern life but it shouldn't make anyone pull their punches when it comes to honest political comment.

scouseboy said...

Cllr Kirwan is an INDEPENDENT conservative councillor on the Wirral. He fell out with the Tories over some issue or other last year and removed himself from their whip.

Louise Baldock said...

Thanks Paula, I know there are questions that might be difficult and I am pleased that you feel we should not pull our punches. I know I have tried to be a bit more discriminating about what I have said and where and to whom over the last year. But I am also pleased that you think that some non-personalised views should still be expressed. I think we are on the same page on this.
Scouseboy and Jim, I used the letter from Kirwan's to illustrate the nervousness I sometimes feel as a politician. The post was not just about the letter although it was a useful opportunity to get my point across.
I dont hold back from talking to the press or the radio and have good relations with all of them and will try my best to answer their questions, what I was talking about was that feeling of "am I in trouble?" that I often feel.
I guess I am a bit too thin-skinned and need to get a bit tougher.
Great debate, thanks everyone

Jim said...

Agreed. As Paula states, one would be very unlikely to use someone touting for business in this way. And suing for defamation is a very big step one would take. There is a lot riding on it. My point is that, whilst one's position may give some insight, there is a potential conflict when highlighting it as part of ones "normal", everyday work.