The Conservative Member of the Assembly and the Transport Committee, James Cleverly warned against Travelwatch becoming a 'front' for Labour, after its openly Boris Johnson-supporting Chairman was sacked from the board.
The comments came after Cleverly (above) labeled the decision to oust Brian Cooke as a political 'witch hunt,' that would be badly received by the public. Writing on his personal blog after yesterday's meeting Cleverly said that:
"The Conservatives voted against this action but were outnumbered, the whole thing had the stench of a witch hunt about it. Brian was got rid off for being political and as a punishment for supporting Boris."
Fellow Conservative blogger and councillor Phil Taylor went further and suggested that the committee's Chair Valerie Shawcross had been 'nakedly political and vindictive' in recommending that Cooke should lose his job. He then said that the whole episode was nothing but 'sour grapes' from the Labour party.
However, despite their own sour grapes about the decision, neither Cleverly or Taylor appear to suggest that Cooke had not actually breached the rules. So to avoid any doubt, here are the relevant guidelines that Brian Cooke signed up to when he took the job:
(a) Members should abstain from controversial party political activity;
(b) Subject to (a) above, members should be free to engage in any political activities, provided that they are conscious of their general public responsibility and exercise a proper discretion, particularly in regard to the work of London TravelWatch. On matters affecting that work, they should not normally make political speeches or engage in other political activities;
(g) Any member of London TravelWatch who is doubtful about the application of the rules in this section, or about the propriety of any political activity, should seek guidance from London TravelWatch’s Chief Executive, who will, if necessary seek further guidance from the Greater London Authority; and
(h) The foregoing rules apply equally to political activity on behalf of any political party or organisation.
He would also have had to bear in mind the job description, the relevant parts of which are as follows:
- The experience of dealing with both print and broadcast media on high profile and potentially contentious issues.
- The ability to work within a complex political environment with the necessary political sensitivity to lead a consumer watchdog organisation.
- Experience of organisational stewardship through effective leadership, the exercise of good judgement and responsible decision-making.
Once Brian Cooke had so publicly and nakedly broken these rules and remits, he no longer had the necessary independence to head and speak for what should be an independent consumer champion.
Brian Cooke had held two private meetings with Boris Johnson, one of which was before he even became the official Tory candidate, and had no such similar meetings with other parties.
In his press release sent out days before the election he then made personal attacks on the then Mayor and stated his 'belief' in the Conservative candidate. And all the while he was using his office of the Chairman of the independent watchdog TravelWatch to validate his views.
If Cooke had instead written a similar statement attacking Boris and praising Ken Livingstone, we would have seen no end of condemnation from the Taylors, Cleverlys and Andrew Gilligans of this world.
In fact the vitriol in Gilligan's story about Peter Hendy's defense of bendy buses would have paled in comparison to the double-spread cronyism claims that would have poured out of the Standard's pages.
As it is, a capable and successful public servant has lost his job because he made what he admitted to be a 'serious error of judgement,' in foregoing his reputation as an independent consumer champion.
Whoever now replaces him may or may not be a supporter of Boris Johnson, but they will have to observe the guidelines and job description that they sign up to. Brian Cooke, whatever his other merits, did not do that and so has now lost his job.
So if the Conservatives really want to earn themselves their own reputation as accountable public servants, then they could do well to acknowledge that fact.