Pickling our politics

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Eric PicklesBy Colin Ellar

I don’t know how many of you were able to attend the London Councils Summit on Saturday, but if you did, you would have witnessed an extraordinary performance by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government , Eric Pickles.

“The Pickle” addressed a cross party audience of elected councillors including several council leaders and senior council officers at this annual event. What is normally an interesting and fairly high level strategic event degenerated into farce as Pickles got more and more rude, insulting and offensive towards his audience.

The first key speaker was the Chair of London Councils, Jules Pipe (elected mayor for Hackney) who in a thoughtful speech gave an overview of the work of London Councils and discussed the proposed coalition reforms and their financial implications for the populations affected. No surprises there then.

Mr Pickles accused Mayor Pipe of being a fantasist worth of “the man booker prize” for suggesting that the tens of millions of pounds that will be cut from his council budgets would in any way damage services. As Mayor Pipe explained that the figures were those from the treasury, and yes, the cuts were going to be over £20million in a year, the minister basically called him a liar in front of the invited audience.

Later under questioning from the audience the minister seemed to be in complete denial that an exodus of the poor from the centre of the city of London would happen as a result of caps to housing benefit, and that this would in any way impact on the voting patterns in the areas affected. I feel reassured already.

I had to ask why the Conservative Party wanted to play such a high risk strategy by alienating the cross party audience of experienced senior elected representatives (including lots of “normal” Tories) and officers which is certainly unprecedented in my time as an elected councillor. What possible advantage could there be in seemingly deliberately insulting and offending hundreds of experienced and influential figures? You tell me.

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