As many people in Walthamstow seethe at the findings of the Independent Panel Report into corruption and theft by local council officers with the knowledge and protection of 'persons unknown', there has been a deafening silence from most of the councillors who are allegedly in office to protect the public from this kind of malfeasance.
The report, which in fine journalistic style has 'slammed' the council as well as being slammed by the Conservatives, raises many, many unanswered questions about who could have stooped so low as to literally steal from the poor fund. There has also been looting of a number of other streams of funding designed to target public help to the most vulnerable groups in our community. We are talking millions. I would have expected councillors to have lined up to condemn the greed and dishonesty and require that the whole sorry tale is uncovered. I would have expected outrage at the systematic avoidance of anti-fraud processes by council officers. Instead, they have said barely a peep to the public.
This is not a party political matter, for all that the Conservatives are acting like an opposition for a change (they have no councillors in Walthamstow itself, but can get a few people elected in the north of the borough), and are championing basic ideas like integrity and sticking up for the poor. Many locals are hopping mad at the venality uncovered, much of it disclosed by as yet unknighted local hero Nick Tiratsoo after many years of painstaking questions and examination of obscure council minutes and accounts.
The report was published last Wednesday week, with some of it made public and large parts kept secret, presumably to protect some potential defendants in future legal actions rather than to stave off a rampaging mob from hanging the local councillors who have let us all down. Since then, there has been no statement from the Labour councillors currently in office, or from those who were in office when much of the wrongdoing was going on, like Stella Creasy, Labour candidate for Parliament at the next election when Neil Gerrrard retires.
It is possible that like Sargeant Schulz in the ancient American comedy series Hogan's Heroes, these councillors really all actually 'know nothing'. If so, that would be surprising, and would be contrary to a lot of rumours circulating locally, as well as the gut reactions of most of the public. (I had an extraordinary conversation about this at the newsagents at Walthamstow Central station last week with a local pensioner - having to back away in order to catch my train as she got into her stride about how fed up she and her friends are. She was a natural Labour voter). If the councillors all know nothing, why not say so? Who knows? Maybe they don't want the public to realise that the idea of councillors running the council is a sham? Are they in shock? Or maybe, as the report itself is hinting, the silence is to protect people? If this is what is going on, then this would be very serious indeed, especially if the Labour group has agreed this as a strategy they will close ranks behind. It is possible to become an accessory after the fact to conspiracies.
There is another explanation, however. Maybe they just don't give a shit. Maybe people stealing from the poor is not something that matters any more. After all, the Labour Party has been very busy doing other things in the past few days, things that they may simply think are far more important. Last Thursday, for instance, they had a gathering of the clans at a local school, organised by the strangely silent Ms Creasy, in honour of Ed Miliband's sadly now undermined mission to sell the UK's climate statistics and the policy implications thereof to the world. Somewhat suspiciously, the same evening, the local authority had spent public money fкting a group of eco-activists on their way to Copenhagen. Maybe Labour just no longer think the poor or thefts of public money earmarked for them are as important as the over-riding issue of climate change.
This is speculation of course. No-one has publically gone on the record and broken the code of omerta yet to tell the hoi poloi what to think. So far these are 'just allegations' that there are fraudsters and thieves in their midst. Instead, the party faithful are pretending that nothing untoward has taken place at all. It is all rather British and stiff upper lip.
Thus, two nights ago, the Party were smiliing for the cameras and raising funds; ready to fight together as comrades and all planning to seek re-election whenever the millionaire Gordon Brown finally gives the word. 100 of the faithful tucked in and bought raffle tickets, including our sitting MP Neil Gerrard (also strangely quiet, for a former Bennite, about these serious crimes against the poor), seasoned Euro-trougher Mary Honeyball MEP and the MP for Ealing North, Stephen Pound.
Stephen Pound may seem odd political company for Ms Creasy and Mr Gerrard, seeing as he is generally against a transparent Parliament, pro-ID cards, has a record of voting to introduce foundation hospitals, student top-up fees and invading Iraq and then later opposing an investigation into the Iraq war. However, he is a pal of Hilary Benn, and in the Labour Party it is not always what you think that matters, but who you can network with even if he has a record for voting moderately against laws to stop climate change, one of Ms Creasy's key interests. She is off to yet another government-approved and organised demo about it (yes, you read that correctly - this country really is becoming like the old East Germany) with Ed Milband tomorrow.
Politics aside (and it clearly must have very much been put aside) a jolly time was had by all, by some accounts. There were no thoughts of the poor. John O’Farrell cracked a few politically correct funnies, promoted one of his books and, in league with the mulled wine, loosened up the wallets of what is left of the local party faithful.