6 April 2010

The Accidental Activist

Over the Easter Weekend I was invited to give a talk in Glastonbury about M&B and the 'Somerton Effect' which caused me to consider some of the less obvious aspects of what has gone on in Somerton and within the old Somerton Town Council.

In explaining the chronology of events, I have, until very recently, observed that the old Town Council only became seriously and unlawfully obstructive when I started to use the Freedom of Information Act which was in mid-2009. Whilst that might be more obviously true, the reality is that the leadership of the Town Council, Keenan and Canvin, started to obstruct my enquiries more than a year beforehand, starting with my letter to my MP, David Heath, in February of 2008. In response to my MP's enquiries, the Town Clerk drafted a reply but was instructed not to send it.

Stranger still, after the announcement of the asset swap with Edgars, I wrote to the Town Council (August & September of 2008) with some enquiries regarding the manner in which these transactions were organised. This time the Keenan&Canvin response was to instruct the Town Clerk to seek a legal opinion as to how the Town Council might avoid replying to these specific questions - not at all the actions of an organisation with confidence in the propriety of its activities.

It was this effort to stonewall my enquiries that, in effect, radicalised me. Had the Town Council been able to provide reasonable responses to perfectly legitimate questions then I suspect that I would have gone away. It was the very fact that they put effort (much more than I realised at the time) into not replying or responding that caused me to continue asking questions - a case of 'accidental activism'.

What was again underlined in Glastonbury was the fact that other taxpayers and electors have serious problems with their Town Councils, many of whom seem to be just as delinquent as was the old Somerton Town Council. The difference between Somerton and other towns is that, in Somerton, I was fortunate enough to be able to ask appropriate questions, questions which the Keenan/Canvin regime seemed fearful of answering, going as far as orchestrating a mass resignation in the hope of burying the problems.

It makes me wonder if the real reason behind the resignations was to avoid having to answer the External Auditor's questions directly, knowing at the same time that the Council's records were, thanks to the Town Clerk and his Assistant, in a complete shambles.

Whatever the truth of the matter, I hope that the 'Somerton Suiciders' will become case study material for others who wish to democratise their delinquent councils. There is even talk of a short documentary on the subject.

Till next time, I'm Niall Connolly