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Liberal Democrats claim Tory leader has conflict of interest: yet another tedious smear?

The Kingston & Surbiton Labour Party is critical of the way the Tory administration is rushing ahead with developments without consulting or listening to residents. We are particularly critical of any proposals that will allow Kingston to become a town of sky-scrapers – a Gotham City lacking human scale. However attempts by the Liberal Democrats to suggest that Kevin Davis, leader of the Council, is in secret cahoots with developers need to be examined rationally. Here we suggest a sensible way forward. The Liberal Democrats should lodge a complaint under the Code of Conduct for Councillors. That is the only proper way forward. 

Kevin Davis, now the Tory leader of Kingston Council, is a director of Cratus, a communications / PR group operating in the local government / private sector interface. He is certainly working flat out as leader to develop Kingston town centre. Inevitably there are complaints and suggestions by some that there must be a conflict of interest. These criticisms are either carefully positioned or megaphoned by those with a political agenda, who fear defeat in the general election and the two Council by-elections.

It is hardly a matter of contention that some of Leader Davis’s public pronouncements have left a lot to be desired on the diplomatic front. Let’s just say he is hardly likely to win a communications contract from the local Labour Party any time soon based on this performance.

The Liberal Democrats on Kingston Council put forward a motion for Council ending:

This Council believes:

Local people are now raising these same concerns regarding the Leader being a lobbyist for developers, their perception being that he is not working for the best interests of the borough.

This Council resolves:

It’s now time to choose! Councillor Kevin Davis should resign either as Leader of the Council or as Chief Operating Officer of Cratus Communications and sever all links, particularly financial, with them”

This motion was withdrawn by officers of the council, doubtless after legal advice, on the grounds that it could expose the Council to a claim for defamation from Cratus. Of course the Liberal Democrats are whingeing, but let us look at the facts.

Firstly it is a criminal offence, punishable by a fine of up to £5,000 and disbarment from public office for up to 5 years, for a councillor to deliberately withhold or misrepresent a personal interest. Leader Davis has formally declared his interest and has stated that Cratus will not deal with any contract involving Kingston Council. For him to act as a covert lobbyist for developers in Kingston would hardly prove a prudent career move. Nevertheless the perception can always remain.

A motion debated in Council is not necessarily the best way of bottoming out this issue. It is what it says, a very public debate where there are rules about how long and how many times someone can speak: where witnesses cannot be called let alone cross-examined: and where no concrete evidence has to be produced. The terms in which the motion was couched meant that it had not a snowball’s sojourn in the most fiery ovens of Hades chance of being voted through. The debate had all the potential of a kangaroo court capable of spawning a whole mass of “joey” leaflets all making spurious claims and accusations based on a careful selection from the debate and citing unnamed but furious residents. Any Liberal Democrats who could possibly support a populist kangaroo court process should hang their heads in shame.

There is a better, sensible, more rational and measured course of action. If the Liberal Democrats have any evidence they should make a complaint under the Councillor Code of Conduct Complaints Procedure . (http://www.kingston.gov.uk/info/200267/councillors/673/councillor_conduct_interests_allowances_and_complaints/4). The officers of the Council would then have to hold a proper non-partisan hearing more appropriate to an accusation of this sort, with evidence, witnesses and cross-examination, isolated from political considerations, and with time to sift out findings. If leader Davis has withheld a conflict of interest, the hearing would be obliged to forward the evidence to the public prosecutor. If no evidence is found, the hearing would have to make this clear to the electorate.

There is, then, every good reason why the Liberal Democrats should take their responsibilities as an opposition seriously, and submit a complaint immediately. Failure to do would expose their motion as a manoeuvre to smear an individual through a shameful evidence-free process of political nodding and winking in a kangaroo court.