Deputy Leader of Cambridge City Council Calls me a Tosser


Saturday, August 8th, 2015. 2:40am

a hypocrite and a coward, and unethical in how he works - and a mysogynist
I have just experienced around twenty four hours of bizarre, unsubstantiated, attacks and slurs on Twitter led by the deputy leader of Cambridge City Council, Labour’s Cllr Carina O’Reilly.

Cllr O’Reilly described me as “a hypocrite and a coward, and unethical in how he works – and a mysogynist” and “a tosser” and said “your constant nasty attacks put people off becoming cllrs. You particularly go for new cllrs and women. You’re a bully.

I think such behaviour is unbecoming of an elected councillor holding such a significant civic role in one of the world’s iconic cities.

Cllr O’Reilly was joined by fellow executive councillor, Cllr Peter Roberts, and various other, largely Labour, activists.

The attack was unprovoked and came as a complete surprise. I can’t recall ever communicating with Cllr O’Reilly outside the context of a public meeting or Twitter. I’ve not particularly commented on Cllr O’Reilly’s performance as a councillor. In recent months I’ve not really been taking too much interest in Cambridge City Council.

Given the attacks were coming from someone who has been elected by the people of Arbury, and given important roles by their fellow councillors, I decided to engage with them and request links to examples backing up the claims. All my campaigning is noted online, mostly on Twitter, Youtube, and this website so providing links ought be practical. The slurs were not substantiated.

A key reason for engaging with the attacks, and thereby publicising them, was to draw attention to them in the hope of prompting a change in culture. I think the unpleasant nature of the debate about how we run Cambridge, and our society more generally, needs to be tackled as I think it creates a high barrier to participation.

I looked into the allegation that I “go for new cllrs” and found I didn’t even know the names of two of the five new councillors elected in May. The suggestion that I disproportionately focus on women councillors has been investigated previously. The results were given as: “So, does Richard write more often about female than male councillors? Not according to this data; on average, each male councillor had 155 hits, and each female councillor had 146.”

I write, and campaign, publicly under my real name, in the city where I live. I make a great effort to ensure all I do is defensible, proportionate, reasonable and morally justified. I strive to be lovely, and I’m always polite and and I have huge respect for our democratic system and the office of councillor. I do not see how I could reasonably be called a coward given I regularly speak at public meetings and place footage of doing so online. I also publish material relating to how we run our society despite living under a regime which makes doing so highly personally risky due to the state of libel law.

Overflowing Bin, Cambridge Market Square, 25 July 2015


Recently I reported an overflowing bin on the Market Square in Cambridge. This was covered in an illustrated front page article in the local paper along with a quote from me saying:

“I think we need to elect better councillors who will get the basics right. I often report, and draw attention to Cambridge’s broken street-lights, failed trees, over-flowing bins, dilapidated or closed public toilets, and decaying signage. If I visit another city and see an unkempt public realm I assume the locals don’t care. I certainly care about the state of Cambridge, a place which I see as my city

I suspect this may have riled Cllr O’Reilly and supporters of the Labour administration currently responsible for running Cambridge.

I have also responded to a recent consultation on the City Council’s tree policies, including a photograph of one of the many poor examples of public trees in Cambridge. Trees are one of Cllr O’Reilly’s areas of responsibility as an executive councillor. My submission didn’t mention any specific councillor and in any case many of the failings are due to previous administrations so Cllr O’Reilly shouldn’t have been upset by my submission; a submission which I would have hoped would be constructive and helpful to someone in the role of Executive Councillor for Trees.

I think what happened here was related to party politics. Labour supporters, and others jumping in, appear to have turned into a mob prepared to attack an outsider. I suspect as I am not a party member, but am taking a personal interest in how our society is being run, I am viewed as “different” by the mob and so in their eyes fair-game for attack.

Section 3.1 of the Cambridge City Council Code of Conduct tells councillors: “You must treat others with respect.” Local activist Timothy Haire, who tweets as Radegund, noted this provision after Cllr O’Reilly addressed me saying: “Sweet Jesus, are you Mr Potato Head?“.

While perhaps the council’s complaints/standards processes or even the police could tackle Cllr O’Reilly, and others’, behaviour I think it is best addressed at the ballot box and we should consider more carefully who we want to have running Cambridge, and who we want to have taking decisions on how to spend our money.

Interestingly my Tweets suggest I may have voted for O’Reilly in 2011

See also

68 comments/updates on “Deputy Leader of Cambridge City Council Calls me a Tosser

  1. anadapter

    Honest opinion is considered a reasonable defence against defamation. They are allowed to think and say that they find you annoying just as you are allowed to say and think that they are annoying and unreasonable. It works both ways.

    I don’t think giving people respect means you can never be critical. (Even if it means being rude at times.) Some of it was reasonable, though how anyone can seriously believe you to be misogynistic is beyond me.

    I do think that councillors expenses are the least important thing to criticise in this case unless someone really is claiming for whatever the Cambridge equivalent is of a duck house. I would tend to agree with others (Edward Leigh for one) that the current level is very modest compared with the amount of work they put in and the level of pay they lose by doing the job. And it is job, not a hobby.

    *However*, while some satire on the topic was entirely deserved, going at it for 24 hrs, creating a spoof account, with a questionable avatar imo, and in doing so seeming to cross the line into bullying, *was taking it too far.* Some recognition of that from them might be helpful.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I’m not the only person actively discussing the future of Cambridge who has been targeted by a spoof Twitter account (actually there have been a number!); our previous local MP was too. I don’t think many of our local councillors have a made enough about their work, views, actions and character known to enable a spoof / parody of them to be created.

  2. Chris

    Richard, I only know you from your comments at council meetings, tweets and blog posts, and if that’s all you do, this outburst at best shows a thin skin from the councillors and at worst is deeply disturbing behaviour. If you’re doing something else which I don’t see, which apparently explains this abuse (it can never justify it), they should make it public. Otherwise, the councillors concerned should be ashamed of themselves – and we should be ashamed of them.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      There really is nothing which isn’t in the public domain.

      The only thing I can find that’s not explicitly public is I cc’d Cllr Roberts on my email to the council about a restaurant being omitted from its food standards rating system. I thought that was polite, reasonable, and proportionate given he’d provided the contact for me to write to and is responsible for the service area.

      The only contact I can recall outside of a public meeting in session or Twitter was when Cllr O’Reilly once approached me prior to a public meeting in St Luke’s United Reformed Church, on Victoria Road to tell me a panel member didn’t want to be photographed. I reported this exchange. Even within public meetings I’ve never specifically addressed Cllr O’Reilly though she has commented on points I’ve raised about the city council’s tree management.

  3. Carina O'Reilly

    Good Lord, Richard – inexplicably, you seem to have completely missed out huge chunks of the exchanges over the last couple of days. In the interests of transparency, and making sure that your readers aren’t left as bewildered as you appear to be, let me clarify some of the issues you raise. The cross-party response, which was not in any way ‘led’ or co-ordinated by me or anyone else, may well have come as a surprise to you (I may find it difficult to imagine you wandering around in a state of stunned innocence, but I can’t rule it out) but it did not come as a surprise to me. Your behaviour over many years has led to you being cordially loathed by everyone in local government at a level that I have never encountered anywhere else.

    What sparked my response to you was your initial tweet, that you have incomprehensibly failed to include in this post, where you attacked councillors for attending a planning meeting. In this tweet you commented on Peter Roberts’ attendance at Planning, suggesting firstly that he’d voted in favour of the plan he’d voted against (he doesn’t sit on Planning) and then that his attendance as a ward councillor, to speak on behalf of his residents, was part of some kind of a scam.

    Many people joined in to remind you that planning is a regulatory committee, makes quasi-judicial decisions, and is therefore not whipped, meaning that it is perfectly proper for a councillor to speak to such a committee – indeed, it’s perfectly proper for councillors to represent their residents at any committee. But you know all this. You have been obsessively following and attacking councillors for years now. You knew they weren’t doing anything wrong but you publicly attacked them for it in the nastiest possible manner anyway, and implied that they were corrupt.

    I don’t sit on planning. You weren’t referring directly to me. But implying that my colleagues are corrupt – especially when what they are actually doing is transparent, ethical and trying their best to represent their constituents – is neither defensible, proportionate, reasonable or morally justified. Later you suggested that we are “trousering” huge sums in allowances and hiding our expenses, when you know perfectly well that our allowances are among the lowest in the country and our expenses are published online. You may think that we should serve for love, but that does not entitle you to attack City Councillors as if they are doing something underhand and unethical for accepting the modest allowances that they are granted to make up for earnings lost while they’re doing what they’ve been elected to do.

    You then went on to state that examining the taxi claims of a disabled councillor was justifiable as “expenses are within councillors control and can indicate their attitude to public money”. Do I even need to outline the nastiness inherent in this? That she is somehow untrustworthy and unethical because she can’t walk from the Guildhall in time for a medical appointment?

    I know that you haven’t particularly attacked me recently, and that you once implied that you voted for me, and very grateful for it I was at the time. However, that doesn’t make you immune to criticism or to response. You have a habit, as do many bullies, of attacking those least able to respond – your nastiness to new councillors and your long-standing misogyny is part of this.

    We have no problem with scrutiny; we’re councillors, we like the attention. But what you’re doing isn’t scrutiny. It’s obsessive, festering hatred, masquerading as third rate journalism. You don’t check your facts, you don’t include countervailing evidence, and you ignore any explanations that don’t fit into your malevolent narratives. You still haven’t apologised for the tweet that sparked all of this when you implied that everyone who speaks or sits on planning is involved in a scam.

    I am happy to treat you with exactly the courtesy and respect that you extend to others. As far as I am concerned, an unjustified, nasty attack on any councillor for simply doing their job is an unjustified, nasty attack on all of us – whatever the party.

    If you want to be treated fairly and politely, behave fairly and politely to us. Have a look at your own behaviour, your tabloid headline tweets, and the nasty implications of your suggestions in the last few days, and take some responsibility for the level of dislike that you inspire.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Good Lord, Richard – inexplicably, you seem to have completely missed out huge chunks of the exchanges over the last couple of days.

      All the exchanges are, currently, on Twitter for those who wish to read them.

      I’ve not responded to comments which are just slurs with no reference to, or apparent connection to, anything I’ve done because there’s nothing to get to grips with and engage with in such cases.

      Your behaviour over many years has led to you being cordially loathed by everyone in local government at a level that I have never encountered anywhere else.

      Obviously I don’t know what all those involved in local government think; but many elected reps, candidates and party activists have commented positively on what I do. Prior to the latest spate of attacks the only loathing I was aware of was that of Ex Liberal Democrat councillors Clare Blair and Sarah Brown.

      What sparked my response to you was your initial tweet, that you have incomprehensibly failed to include in this post, where you attacked councillors for attending a planning meeting. In this tweet you commented on Peter Roberts’ attendance at Planning, suggesting firstly that he’d voted in favour of the plan he’d voted against (he doesn’t sit on Planning) and then that his attendance as a ward councillor, to speak on behalf of his residents, was part of some kind of a scam.

      I have never attacked councillors for attending a planning meeting.

      The tweet in question states:

      The context there was @CamCycle having been reporting live from the meeting (something my campaigning and activism I think helped prompt the change in the law enabling), they reported that Cllr Roberts had spoken at the meeting. As I’ve said I’ve not been following the council particularly closely, I didn’t attend the last full council meeting, I wasn’t sure which councillors were on the planning committee and on the basis of the information available I think I asked a reasonable question.

      I do think that there’s a big problem, not limited to planning, of local ward councillors taking the side of a local campaign group, giving the impression they’re on their side and speaking up, and voting, as the campaigners / constituents would like in council meetings only for other councillors, often from the same party, to vote another way. This leaves a local councillor able to claim they’ve done all they can on an issue in their ward, even if their party more widely has not. I think this gives electors a difficult choice at election time and I think it’s behaviour which undermines faith in our democracy. The issue I’m raising is akin an MP being allowed to take a different view from their party on a matter specifically affecting their constituency in an effort, presumably, to preserve votes in one location despite the party as a whole taking actions the majority in that constituency don’t want to see. I do think this kind of behaviour is a “scam”.

      You knew they weren’t doing anything wrong but you publicly attacked them for it in the nastiest possible manner anyway, and implied that they were corrupt.

      I have not suggested any illegality or corruption.

      you suggested that we are “trousering” huge sums in allowances and hiding our expenses, when you know perfectly well that our allowances are among the lowest in the country and our expenses are published online. You may think that we should serve for love, but that does not entitle you to attack City Councillors as if they are doing something underhand and unethical for accepting the modest allowances that they are granted to make up for earnings lost while they’re doing what they’ve been elected to do.

      I do think “to trouser” is an excellent verb to use in relation to councillors taking home public money via their allowances and expenses. It is pejorative, councillors or other elected reps taking home public money isn’t something I’m particularly keen on, but it doesn’t in my view suggest anything underhand or unethical. I’ve pointed to widespread use of the verb where no question of improper behaviour is made eg. Boris Johnson trousers £25,000 pay rise from the Telegraph.

      While I think it is excellent that Cambridge City Council’s basic allowance is modest I don’t see what executive councillors do which justifies an additional £8,346. Councillors cite lots of additional time and secret, private, meetings within the council. I don’t want to have councillors who are hands on, operationally running the council. I want councillors who set strategy and take decisions in public at formal meetings. I don’t want being a councillor to become a job, I think that would make the role inaccessible to those who want to pursue other occupations and take part, as a councillor, in running our city. I don’t want to see a professional class of politicians ruling over us.

      Cllr O’Reilly noted her allowances don’t cover her rent. I don’t think we should be paying Cllr O’Reilly’s rent. Taxes are paid by those who are struggling to fund their own accommodation. I’ve been in a position of being heavily taxed while not being able to afford a decent place to live for many years and am passionate about getting value for public money.

      Cambridge City Council do not clearly publish details of expenses paid to councillors online. The published material for 2014-15 at the time of writing makes no reference to expenses, only allowances. The fact some of the released figures relate to expenses was only made clear via a response to a Freedom of Information request. I don’t think people should need to make Freedom of Information requests to find out about councillors’ expenses. I note the published material still does not detail perks available to councillors such as free parking at the city council’s car parks.

      You then went on to state that examining the taxi claims of a disabled councillor was justifiable as “expenses are within councillors control and can indicate their attitude to public money”. Do I even need to outline the nastiness inherent in this? That she is somehow untrustworthy and unethical because she can’t walk from the Guildhall in time for a medical appointment?

      This is an inaccurate portrayal of what occurred. Having seen some councillors were billing the public for taxi rides I merely asked why and I got a couple of prompt responses explaining.

      Some of those working hard and paying taxes will walk long distances and take public transport in order to get to work. I see taxis as a luxury and think it is reasonable to ask questions about councillors’ spending. I do think expenses claims from elected representatives can give an insight into an individuals’ attitude to spending public money.

      In light of the suggestion arising after I raised my question that some, but not all, of the taxi claims were justified by a disability I suggested that perhaps claims on such grounds should be anonomised (In a similar way to claims MPs make for security related items are).

      You have a habit, as do many bullies, of attacking those least able to respond – your nastiness to new councillors and your long-standing misogyny is part of this.

      I address these points in my original article above.

      You don’t check your facts, you don’t include countervailing evidence,

      Readers can browse this site, and read my tweets, and see that I regularly cite the sources of the information which I report and comment on. I often worry I’m setting too high a bar for others when I do things like publish videos of entire meetings on YouTube – to ensure all views are available and I can’t be accused of unfairly selecting material. There is a gap between the information available to councillors and that available to the public. I think it is reasonable to comment on what’s publicly available and I actively campaign for more open and transparent administration, which I think will reduce the divide between elected reps and those they represent.

      I am happy to treat you with exactly the courtesy and respect that you extend to others. As far as I am concerned, an unjustified, nasty attack on any councillor for simply doing their job is an unjustified, nasty attack on all of us – whatever the party.

      I note no examples of any unjustified or nasty attacks have been given. I don’t attack people and certainly not in a nasty way.

      If you want to be treated fairly and politely, behave fairly and politely to us.

      I always behave politely. I’ve only once been accused of being impolite by a councillor; when reporting on an illegal secret meeting of the Police and Crime Panel which I discovered.

      I immediately explained why I thought my actions, and activism, were proportionate and justified.

      tabloid headline tweets.

      I think writing in an engaging way is important. I think what I do helps bring out what our elected reps are up to. If all coverage was in the style of dry council minutes fewer people would read it and be aware of what their elected representatives get up to.

      I think the style of my reporting is a matter for me.

      Councillors and others have suggested various restrictions ought be imposed on reporting, an often proposed idea is a requirement for balance in reporting on civic matters. Currently in our society we require balance from broadcasters but not from newspapers or bloggers. I want to live in a society were people are free to express their views. I think people should be free to comment on society from their own perspective. If a political party, or campaign group, wanted to start reporting on aspects of the behaviour of the council which they are particularly interested in I think that would be fine. As I’ve said I’m concerned that I’m actually too accommodating and responsive to those setting higher bars to reporting and commenting on what councillors do.

  4. Phil Rodgers

    You link to an article I wrote in 2011 about which councillors you wrote more about. As the article notes, the data said nothing about whether you were more critical of female councillors – it simply showed how many times each councillor’s name appeared on your blog.

    I do think you are unusually offensive to some female councillors. When you first appeared on the Cambridge political scene, there was a widespread belief (amongst Lib Dems at least) that you were a misogynist. While I shared that belief at the time, I no longer do – rather, I think it is your lack of empathy for the feelings of other people that makes you come across as misogynist.

    While you have achieved some positive results, there are many councillors who, in my opinion, deliver a great deal more benefit to Cambridge than you do – and Carina is certainly one of those. Frankly, given your enormous investment of time and effort in local campaigning, I think the results you have achieved are pretty limited. You sometimes just seem to be someone who likes the sound of his own keyboard. In particular I think your general attitude – your apparent assumption of bad faith, and your tendency to use pejorative terms – often does more harm than good to the cause of public scrutiny of local government. There are a number of other people writing about Cambridge local politics, none of whom have run into the issues that you highlight in this article. I think you need to think about why that is.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      You link to an article I wrote in 2011 about which councillors you wrote more about. As the article notes, the data said nothing about whether you were more critical of female councillors – it simply showed how many times each councillor’s name appeared on your blog.

      I’ve not suggested otherwise. Clearly an analysis of sentiment would be significantly harder.

      I do think you are unusually offensive to some female councillors.

      Can you give an example of where you think I’ve been “unusually offensive”? Everything I do is online so pointing to cases rather than just making assertions ought be easy.

      I think that sometimes people react differently to the same kind of activity and gender may correlate with some types of reaction. I don’t know though, that’s just an idea.

      I really don’t think I let apparent gender influence the way I comment on our elected representatives. I think the challenge I face following the slurs and allegations is to not to let it affect what I do in the future, and not to be afraid of commenting on certain councillors on the basis of gender.

      When you first appeared on the Cambridge political scene, there was a widespread belief (amongst Lib Dems at least) that you were a misogynist.

      Was there any basis for that or was it a case of this person looks male so we can attack him by saying he’s a misogynist if he refers to a woman; in a similar way to perhaps saying this person looks white so we can call him a racist if he enters debates on racial equality or immigration; or this person writes online so an allegation of being anonymous and inaccurate might stick?

      (These comments all related to allegations I have been on the receiving end of. Councillors and members of the public in Cambridge have, utterly inexplicably, accused me of hiding and being anonymous, despite my name and image being closely associated with all that I do and my regular attendance at public events.)

      While you have achieved some positive results, there are many councillors who, in my opinion, deliver a great deal more benefit to Cambridge than you do

      Of course councillors have more impact than someone writing a few tweets, using a few public speaking slots and making an occasional FixMyStreet report and consultation response. That’s exactly how it should be.

      Frankly, given your enormous investment of time and effort in local campaigning, I think the results you have achieved are pretty limited.

      All I can say is I’m trying my best to be a good citizen. Impact is not my only concern, and certainly not short term impact. I also strive to act proportionately, morally, openly and transparently and within the democratic process.

      I think your general attitude – your apparent assumption of bad faith, and your tendency to use pejorative terms

      I think pejorative terms just come down to style. I’ve explained that I think engaging writing is important. I have no assumption of bad faith in fact I actively, and following consideration, take the opposite view I take an “assume good faith” approach to life.

      There are a number of other people writing about Cambridge local politics, none of whom have run into the issues that you highlight in this article. I think you need to think about why that is.

      I’d certainly like to hear any suggestions.

      I note that I did intentionally highlight and draw attention to the attacks; we don’t know how councillors and party supporters treat others. One case which briefly came to the fore was when Conservative Candidate Nick Hillman wrote about a dirty tricks campaign he had been on the receiving end of, but he removed his comments rapidly. There is a difficulty when responding to slurs and accusations that you might damage your reputation by doing so. I’ve taken the judgement in this case that responding and entering debate was the right thing to do.

      I think I’m the only person doing quite what I do.

      For me I think the question is why am I a target for attack. I suspect one reason is that I’m an individual, and not a member of a group, so I’m seen relatively weak – just as a lion wouldn’t attack a wildebeest in the middle of a heard. My passion for due-process, democracy and the rule of law also perhaps makes me an attractive target. I respond to attacks by seeking enduring systemic change to with an aim of preventing a recurrence of the circumstances leading to conflict. I think people respond to that in a different way to, for example, an immediate threat of violence.

    2. Phil Rodgers

      “Was there any basis for that or was it a case of this person looks male so we can attack him by saying he’s a misogynist if he refers to a woman”

      There really was no plot among Lib Dems to portray you as being misogynist because you looked male. There was an actual perception amongst many Lib Dem councillors and activists at the time (and I’m talking about the pre-2010 period) that you were in fact misogynist, based on your behaviour – I have already said what I think about this in an earlier comment. Had there been such a plot at the time, I would have been aware of it – and I wasn’t. There was a bit of a plot, as I recall, to get you to direct more of your attention to the (then) Conservative-controlled County Council, but this essentially consisted of Rupert M-E inviting you to attend CambsCC Full Council as his guest. Other than that, I am not aware of any plot concerning you amongst Lib Dems at all.

  5. anadapter

    On one point. Why, in the name of all that is sane, cannot a councillor, having looked at the facts of a case, support a local group? What, pray tell, is so very wrong about that? Should they vote against things simply because to do otherwise means to support a local campaign group? Who might have some well informed and sensible reasons for objecting or supporting an application? Honestly, I’m not fussed if their party hasn’t been as supportive. It happens a lot. It’s politics too and hey, that’s not a crime.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      They can and do. It’s not a problem.

      I think though a local group might be surprised when after having gained the support of their local councillors, and all contact with them being supportive of them, then be surprised when their local councillors are overruled by others.

      I don’t think this is wrong, I’m just highlighting it as something I think people may find surprising and undermine confidence in democracy and political parties.

      Sometimes I’ve observed the opposite happen; for a period on some items the Liberal Democrats appeared to take a policy of introducing more localism by following the relevant ward councillors’ votes on an issue – they would approach questions by asking if there was a reason to go against officers’ recommendations and if there was a reason to go against the views of ward councillors. I’m merely commenting on the way I’ve seen our local council work.

  6. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Roberts has been making a fuss about an exchange where I commented on him running the city from a Parisian Cafe.

    Cllrs O’Reilly and Roberts have tens of thousands of words of articles, hours of video, and almost sixty thousand tweets from which to pick items out to criticise me. I think this should be viewed in that context. I have placed far more about my views online than most councillors and candidates. I don’t think this exchange is exemplary but it happened, I made the judgement. I don’t think I did anything wrong.

    Our newspapers to cover many of our elected reps go on holiday, particularly when they make public statements about staying in touch and in control when doing so. eg. UK prime minister confesses reliance on BlackBerry smartphone for remotely running the government while on holiday.

    Cllr Roberts publicised his presence in Paris himself; I did not publicise something he himself wasn’t. I think councillors travelling and seeing other countries is fantastic and I hope they’ll bring ideas from elsewhere back to Cambridge.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner “favorited” a tweet from Cllr Roberts.

    Oui. La vie est trop courte pour boire du mauvais vin.

    The tweet in question appears to be in French.

    I believe it says: “Yes. Life is too short/hard for drinking bad wine”.

    I am not sure of the relevance of the statement or what if anything to infer from the “favourite”.

  8. Bob

    Richard, I find this all rather tedious. I stopped reading your blog regularly as it became a bit boring and petty. Not living in Cambridge it also became a bit parochial. However, I have met you in public meeting two or here times and you have always been polite and have listened to other points of view. The persistent nature of your enquiries clearly scares some councillors and they seem to come from the Blair school of when you are wrong, go on the attack. It is they who are tossers and need to have much thicker skin if they are going to continue in even local politics. We live in a society where the spotlight shines brightly on those who choose to represent us. I see no problem, indeed I applaud, in pushing for more openness around Councillor expenses. The fact someone is disabled is totally irrelevant. Dishonesty is possible irrespective of age, gender, disability or sexual orientation. If someone starts to defend their expenses by playing such cards, I become even more interested in the detail. The other side of this is, of course, that people will attack you back and it is sometimes better to just ignore them and carry on probing, rather than take time and emotional energy in defending yourself against very small people.

  9. Richard Jennings

    For all the valuable work you do in reporting on and calling to account local government in its various forms you do come across as constantly critical and, at times, lacking perspective.

    Your continual call to ‘elect better councillors’ implies that the current ones aren’t doing a good job. So a sign got put in the wrong place; this was probably a mistake by the contractors or a misunderstanding between them and an officer and although a councillor is ultimately accountable they can’t micro manage the entire council.

    The councillors are probably struggling with budget shortfalls, people without anywhere to live and a whole range of other higher priority things, and this is where I think you show a lack of perspective. Meanwhile officers are facing continued pay freezes and job uncertainty and yet continue to run the council while central government takes away funding and piles on responsibilities. It’s a wonder that it works as well as it currently does!

    It actual baffles me that people want to become councillors and we should appreciate the time and commitment that so many of them show. Yes, we should also hold them to account.

    On the issue of expenses, I looked at the list, saw the taxi fares and thought that considering the relatively small amount spent it was reasonable. There seemed no need to make an issue of it.

    Since you choose to write in a tabloid style and use pejorative words you shouldn’t be surprised if you get a strong reaction because that’s what you are seeking.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      The question of why it’s worth addressing minor local issues when there’s great suffering in the world and we need to get humanity, and life itsself, off this rock, is one I do consider. It’s a point I addressed when I was asked why I was campaigning against the gating of a new development near where I live.

      I do regularly consider perspective and how best to have the greatest positive impact. Seeking the greatest benefit for the most people led me to spend many years working on therapeutics, aimed at the prevention and cure of diseases. Focusing where I hope can have most impact also led me to work on the PublicWhip and TheyWorkForYou websites, reporting on how MPs vote.

      It’s not always possible to work on the most important issues. I take opportunities which arise and do what I can given the circumstances I find myself in. There are areas I would like to do more in, such as on the quality of General Practitioner services, but given they’re run from central government finding the right route is hard. I have engaged with out of hours services (more:1, 2,3,4,5,6,7,8. ) and ambulance response times. One area of focus over recent years has been seeking a greater consideration of reducing injuries and harm when setting local police priorities and polices.

      As a result of carrying out my civic activities in public many people make suggestions to me about what they think I should be working on (a common one is a proposal I should come and pay some attention to a town or parish council hundreds of miles away which I have no connection with!). I consider, and welcome, all these ideas but have to make my own decisions about where I put my efforts, time and resources.

      I do not think that calling for better councillors implies the current councillors are doing a bad job. I do though look at the city and think we could do better, we could do more to help people find appropriate and affordable places to live, more to tackle injuries from crime, and on the roads, and more to make the city a pleasant, and fair place to live.

      Other than perhaps Julian Huppert it’s hard to think of anyone who could do a better job than Lewis Herbert at running our city. I think we have elected a number of dud councillors who don’t appear to do much, or anything at all.

      do come across as constantly critical

      Most articles I write contain a section with constructive suggestions for tackling any problems identified. Take my recent tree consultation response as an example. I outline what I see as the problem and then put forward a series of ideas to improve things.

      I’ve previously, positively, set out what I’d like to see from a local councillor and from a Police and Crime Commissioner and presented a vision for Cambridge when party politicians were doing so in 2010.

      I do not think that reporting problems with, for example, signs or bins is negative. I consider it a positive step towards getting the problem addressed. I think it is courteous to mention local councillors in tweets about reports I make, it gives them an opportunity to see what’s going on in their wards or areas of responsibility. A tweet mention involves a very low level of intrusion when compared to other routes of communication such as a phone call or knocking on someone’s door. (If a someone decides to set up a system to intrusively alert them every time they’re mentioned online that’s their choice and those engaging or mentioning them are not responsible for the degree of interruption and intrusion which may be caused as a result.)

      I invite specific examples of any cases where anyone considers I have been unduly critical or negative.

  10. Sam

    One of the tweets that seems to have prompted the ire of the councillors was the approval of student housing on Newmarket Road, with the s106 contributions going to transport (which isn’t a problem) being spent on on the path along Midsummer Common (erm, wtf?).

    In another area, that has been discussed under the heading of “Democratic deficit in transport schemes funded by new developments”, and it is that “democratic deficit” I think Richard was discussing before being attacked.

    That is not to say that any individual, democratically elected, was not doing the right and proper thing, at each small level; but that the sum of those parts was not what it should be.

    It is entirely legitimate for a Councillor to attend a public meeting and make a statement, as an elected representative. No disagreement there. But is that all they can do, when they are a member of the largest (or even, second largest) party on the council?

    There is a perception that Councillors oppose in public for PR reasons things which they take no action on in private. That’s politics. And, for the benefit of our new MP, good politicians will say nothing in public on things they are actively apposing in private. The question is, what outcomes do you want from the process?

    Richard probably cares more about process than anyone I’ve ever met outside of HoC clerks; I can see why that’s irritating for people who care about perception; and he is an invaluable resource to those who care about outcomes.

    One of the repeated questions to Richard on Twitter has been why he doesn’t become a councillor himself. Which is a very interesting question, that has a number of answers in this scenario, all of which explain why Richard, to achieve what he wants to achieve, probably shouldn’t become a councillor.
    – Would it have made any difference to the outcome on this planning request? No (at most, it may have been one objection on the vote, which was won by more than that)
    - Would RT be able to cover the range of issues he currently cares about? No – he would have additional commitments to constituents, which would presumably take time away from meetings where he may be the only outside observer.
    - Most importantly, if RT became a councillor, would the other parties on the council just stitch him up politically in order to score points? There is clearly a long term interest in attacking Richard for things he’s said in the past. While that’s true of Richard, I suspect it would be less true of, for example, Labour Councillor Blair (who is former Lib Dem Councillor Blair). Inside the cabal, some things get forgiven, some don’t.

    Richard doesn’t play by those rules; which is why I suspect he is most effective, right where he is. And I’m sure the various people involved understand this rather well.

    the outstanding question, is why they still don’t recognise Richard for what he actually is, what he has been for many years, and engage on that basis. That the parties are institutionally incapable of doing this probably says far more about the state of tribal politics in Cambridge than anything they say about Richard.

  11. Iohn

    Dear Richard. Thank you for your efforts documenting local politics. I find this very useful. However, please try to be more careful to think about how other people feel.

    People working in local politics do not expect the level of scrutiny of their personal lives that national politicians have to put up with (nor should they imho), nor the constant assumption that they are acting in bad faith. I suspect that (on average) women are more upset by your more personal comments than men, which is probably the root of this issue.

    Of course sometimes councillors are hypocritical, tribal or stupid. But sometimes they are just trying their best. They are human. Please be reasonable in what you expect. How about saying thank you to them from time to time to balance all the times you are justifiably negative about them. :)

  12. Stray Taoist

    (Up-front caveat: I’m South Cambs, not City, due to the skies not being dark enough in there. And I’ve been ‘following’ Richard for years now, and surprisingly our paths have only (to my knowledge) only physically crossed once.)

    Richard does a great (unpaid) job, and I use his output as a somewhat shortcut to keep me up to date with local politics. And his work towards open democracy is commendable. But the interminable passive-aggressive, won’t-someone-think-of-my-allowances responses from the councillors only makes me agree with him: we need to elect better. Ms O’Reilly’s reply, whether intentionally or not, comes across as an entitlement whinge.

    I know that you haven’t particularly attacked me recently, [...]. You have a habit, as do many bullies, of attacking those least able to respond – your nastiness to new councillors and your long-standing misogyny is part of this.

    Oh man. What a line. Almost a ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ one. Quite the SJW smear right there.

    Other of the responses come across as ‘throw out insults and see what sticks’. Misogyny? Not that I’ve detected. Unchecked facts? He always puts some sort of audit trail up there, whether I agree with the conclusions or not. I’ve never seen him give out personal abuse to anyone, only on the end of it (as this whole sequence is showing.)

    *rummages in pockets to check his privilege*

    Lastly, I also agree that ‘trousering’ is a fine term. (I also have to add that ‘ Sweet Jesus, are you Mr Potato Head?’ made me laugh as well.)

  13. Richard Taylor Article author

    Via a series of tweets[1][2][3][4] emitted after 9pm on Saturday the 8th of August Councillor O’Reilly wrote:

    How about a truce. I will acknowledge that you mean well, and are trying to do a worthwhile thing. In return, I’d like you to acknowledge that your ‘style’ causes distress, and it is not ok to deliberately set out to do this. Happy to discuss this over a beer, to put this on a more human level. Twitter not good medium for this. Clocking off Twitter now for the rest of the evening but will check in later to see any response. Hope to see one. All the best.

    I want to thank Councillor O’Reilly for her message and in particular for the acknowledgement that my motives are positive.

    I note though there is no apology. There is no acceptance that it not appropriate for the deputy leader of a city council to launch an attack on a local resident trying to engage with how the city is run, calling them “a tosser” and “Mr Potato Head”.

    I strongly believe in forgiveness when allowing people who have done wrong to change and reform. The processes of forgiveness and restoration though have to start with openly admitting what was done was wrong.

    Councillor O’Reilly has proposed a “truce”; this suggests that I have done something wrong whereas I have just been subjected to an unprovoked and unsubstantiated series of slurs and allegations.

    Of course I have no intent to cause anyone distress. It appears that some councillors find someone merely reporting, or filming a meeting, or pointing to their allowances/expenses, attendance record, or a habit of leaving meetings before the end, distressing. Reasonable behaviour does not become unreasonable simply because someone finds it distressing. Causing distress can, in some circumstances, be justified.

    Happy to discuss this over a beer

    Given the impact the campaign of attacks has had on me over the past few days that suggestion was hard to seriously contemplate when I first received it. I would rather any meeting was post-apology and think that an appropriate venue for the deputy leader of the council to meet a resident she has publicly attacked would be the “public” area in the guildhall foyer. While I am happy to have a private conversation, given the public interest, I would do a piece to camera before and after and offer Cllr O’Reilly the opportunity to comment in that format too, with a view to publishing it online.

    will check in later to see any response.

    I decided not to be rushed in to responding late at night by this. I have considered my response over many hours, and even drafted it longhand. A rarity for me.

    Councillor O’Reilly has not been the only person attacking me. While I’m willing to treat everyone as an individual meeting her while her close party colleagues have not openly reconsidered their actions would be difficult. I am in particular concerned about Cllr Peter Roberts’ baseless suggestion that I have indefensibly defamed him. A libel threat, under our current regime, for someone in my position is a threat to use state power take away everything someone has, their home, their ability to provide for their basic needs. I think there is a very limited place for libel threats and proceedings in civic discourse.

    I am determined to continue my civic activities undeterred. I will continue to be mindful and considered in my approach. The increased scrutiny I have come under during the attacks will I expect prompt me to take even more care. As with any feedback, I will take into account what people have said to me via various means recently and may be more proactive in explaining my justifications for my actions.

  14. Al Storer

    I think one area you could do more to come across better is in language use. Eg you recently talked of councillors “trousering” expense money. That’s an extremely pejorative term that reads as if you’re accusing them of embezzling the money for little work. A little more consideration and care in use of terminology would go a long way to settling things.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Al,

      Thanks for sharing your interpretation. My views on the word “trousering” are in a comment above. “Settling things” is not my aspiration. I want to provoke, and inform, debate, I want to draw attention to what our councillors get up to. I realise I could report, lobby, and act, in a much more low key manner but I don’t think that would be as engaging, interesting, effective or fun.

      I realise I’m opening myself up to criticism by saying engaging with how we run our society can be fun; but I think it can, and at times should, be. I certainly have recommended observing a council meeting as an alternative to paying for tickets to an expensive show. If we had elected reps who actually debated in the chamber rather than deciding how to vote beforehand inline with their party procedures, I think our council chamber, and parliament, could become even more gripping.

      Looking at some of my older reports from council meetings which contain much more “colour”, I’m concerned I’ve already been cowed into a taking a much duller approach which perhaps loses some of my passion.

  15. AB

    Richard, I can assure you, there is absolutely nothing fun or engaging in the way you write at the moment, nor in the way you are acting. It’s a very disjointed style, with almost no empathy or compassion towards the other person.

    I honestly think you don’t see how you affect others. I also really think you may have a mild to medium asperger-like tendency. That’s ok, many fine decent people have tendencies towards certain conditions that make it more challenging to see how they interact with others. I would just urge you to think a little about what you say, and perhaps think a bit about how you come across to others.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Some people like what I do; others don’t. I think that’s fine.

      I might well be judged not particularly good at certain types of writing. Again that’s fine, but I urge anyone who thinks that someone with my level of literacy ought not take part in public debate, via the medium of writing, to consider the huge fraction of the population that would also be excluding.

      I think it’s unfortunate that allegations of being mentally ill, along with allegations of racism, misogyny , or whatever else, are in our society fired at those who put their head above the parapet and try to make a difference. I hope that I’ve made it clear in what I’ve written in the above article, and previous comments, that I think more than a little bit about every civic public action I take, and everything I write publicly.

      Clearly this article isn’t and its comments thread isn’t particularly fun but I decided it was the best route available to me to respond to the attacks directed at me. I would much rather not have spent most of the last three days thinking about, and responding to what Cllr O’Reilly and others did. Others making attacks I could ignore, but given the involvement of the Deputy Leader of Cambridge City Council I thought I should respond.

      Many people are fearful about publicly sharing views online because of the potential of the kinds of attacks I have been subject to; which as some people take stances such as “no smoke without fire”, will damage the reputations of those willing to take part in public debate.

  16. Richard Taylor Article author

    One of those making the allegations, Fred Jerrome has identified something he suggests could be intimidation: A video I took and published the morning after the general election count which saw Labour’s Daniel Zeichner elected in Cambridge.

    Mr Jerrome has been a Labour activist in Cambridge, chair of the Cambridge University Labour Club and is now a Unison trade union local organiser in Bristol.

    Mr Jerrome has stated “[Richard Taylor] has filmed me in the street before (without me knowing) and put it on youtube. scrutiny or intimidation?” and confirmed the video in question:

    The video shows a raucous mob of Cambridge Labour supporters, including Cllr Carina O’Reilly. One of mob was repeatedly shouting “we beat the yellow bastards” (presumably a reference to Julian Huppert and the Liberal Democrats). The commotion started well before my video; I had to get my camera out of my bag, turn it on, an start filming.

    I think this shows the attitude of Labour’s activists; they appear to have the mentality of a group of supporters of a sports team which has just won a game, not a group who’ve just won the responsibility of having one of their members represent Cambridge in Parliament.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Richard Nicholl has described my filming of the scene on the public highway outside the Guildhall after the count as creepy, invasive harassment.

       this is not holding representatives to account, this is creepy, invasive harassment.

      The event was something which happened quickly so I wasn’t able to get great footage but it’s a piece of news-gathering and reporting that I’m very proud of. As I’ve said I think the public interest is clear, it gives a clear insight into the mob mentality of the Labour activists.

      Others in the video are the Labour group leader (the group has a handful of councillors) on Cambridgeshire County Council and George Howes who it appears has chaired Cambridge University Labour Club, and appears could have been the one shouting.

      As can (at the time of writing) be seen above Cllr O’Reilly retweted Richard Nicholl’s tweet describing my reporting as creepy, invasive harassment.

    2. Carina O'Reilly

      Richard, yet again you have deliberately and nastily misrepresented events. In what way has this clip shown me as part of a ‘raucous mob’? It shows me walking from left to right of a shot of some young students celebrating a big victory after a day of very hard work.

      I offered to go for a drink with you in good faith, to try to recognise each others’ humanity and to move on from this hostility. I can only assume from your failure to respond and your continued campaign of nastiness that you either cannot or will not recognise me as a human being worth talking to. This saddens, but doesn’t surprise me.

  17. Richard Taylor Article author

    I am considering the offer of meeting up but as I mentioned above I’m concerned about doing so before a clear admission and apology. If I was to meet say someone who had assaulted me or burgled me as part of a restorative justice process I would want that to be after a court sentence and an acceptance of guilt. It would be masochistic of me to, after suffering days of sustained abuse, to put myself in a position where I could be exposed to more.

    Prior to this latest series of attacks I held Cllr O’Reilly in the same high esteem as I do other councillors about whom I know relatively little. I always assume good faith and even after the odd way, singling me out, while imposing a reporting restriction at a local public meeting in Arbury I still assumed good faith. Perhaps, as many people do, I assumed the Labour party would not have made her their deputy leader in the city, one heartbeat away from quite significant power, if she was as childish and immature as her actions in calling me “a tosser”, “Mr Potato Head” and more has shown.

    O’Reilly has already stated “no apologies”. I would certainly want to ask for one, and if one is not forthcoming ask how she thinks, especially given her role as deputy leader of the Council, her insults and attacks are justified. After the last few days she’s certainly not coming across to me as someone I want to get to know.

  18. michael abberton

    Good grief. When I caught the initial exchanges I was on your side – the kind of behaviour on twitter from councillors towards an individual citizen and constituent was unprecedented to my knowledge. I’ve been on the receiving end of an abuse of power by a local politician – though my case was a little more public.

    However reading through this exchange above I’m changing my opinion. You seem to forget that especially in tweets, anyone can come across as brusque and offensive. But you do seem to have compounded this on occasion rather than clarifying or, yes, apologising.

    However you interpret the term, ‘to trouser’ is pejorative, it is only used in that fashion. And you do fire off tweets like tabloid headlines – ripe for misinterpretation. To put the council under scrutiny, report on their proceedings and call them to account if necessary is a good thing. To be continually looking for some kind of conspiracy or working on the assumption that there is wrong-doing and all you need to do is find it – is the wrong approach.

    There are others doing a similar job of reporting local politics and yet they have not fallen foul of the same opprobrium. Phil Rogers did an excellent job of exposing the failing of the county council plans for the library, for example. Yet you seem not to recognise that you may be at fault in some way. Goodness knows, I’m the first person to come the support of anyone who feels that their right to free speech is being suppressed by those in power – but that simply isn’t the case here. I would say however that councillors should not resort to common abuse even in the face of what they interpreted as provocation.

    But here the hand of reconciliation has been offered and your reaction says more about you than Cllr. O’Reilly. Even there, you infer double dealing and wrong-doing!

    On election night I also found the behaviour of the Labour group to be bullish and intimidatory and commented about it at the time. But we were all tired and worked hard on a long campaign. I wouldn’t start casting aspersions or making assumptions about people’s personalities based on that – and I’m not doing that here about you either.

    This year you basically put an end to Chamali Fernando’s campaign by taking what she said out of context – ripe for the tabloids to spin into a meaning she never intended. You don’t seem to have learned anything from that either.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      However reading through this exchange above I’m changing my opinion.

      Obviously I’m carefully considering how to respond. I thought when I finally got a specific example of my actions which are being complained about (the Market Square video) it was right to note that and expand on why I’m proud of that piece of first-hand news-gathering and consider it utterly reasonable.

      rather than clarifying

      I’m happy to clarify anything that needs clarifying.

      But here the hand of reconciliation has been offered and your reaction says more about you than Cllr. O’Reilly.

      I’m just honestly sharing my views. I take all comments, feedback and allegations seriously and give them due consideration. I don’t find being attacked an easy, or comfortable, thing to deal with.

      On my reporting during the election; I think it was all accurate and reasonable.

  19. Richard Taylor Article author

    A few comments here, especially those from Liberal Democrat Phil Rodgers, have suggested that I am alone in being attacked as a result of my participation in discussions of how Cambridge is run. I don’t think that’s the case.

    Two party activists from different parties have spoken to me about how they’ve experienced difficult to deal with attacks from members of other parties – which have put them off greater participation in Local Government.

    I’ve also just gone back to a document written by Antony Carpen after he stood for election as Puffles2010 in 2014. He made some pertinent comments there mentioning the abuse he experienced including:

    The relationships between councillors and community reporters such as Phil Rodgers, Richard Taylor, myself and the campaigners at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign were becoming noticeably more tense in the run up to the elections

    I attracted support, created confusion and was ridiculed/abused for this approach from a variety of quarters – though most of it was online rather than face-to‐face. The most important one for me was that institutions did not know how to deal with me/Puffles. What do you do when someone isn’t playing by the established conventions? For political parties, the challenge was whether to response aggressively, in a friendly manner or to ignore me altogether.

    The report on the experience of Puffles2010 standing for election even has a whole section on “dealing with critisism and abuse” :

    Dealing with criticism and abuse
    There were a couple of occasions where I came under short but intense fire online over my campaign, as well as being on the receiving end of anonymous abusive comments both on my blog and in the comments section of online newspapers. Talking about the abusive and racist comments Lewis Herbert received in his recent canvassing was what stopped me from doing wider door-to-door canvassing. I have a sensitive disposition at the best of times, and given the toxic media environment we live in, I wasn’t and am not prepared to put myself in that sort of firing line when all I want to do is to raise awareness of something and am effectively acting alone in that process.

    Is criticism and abuse part of the process? Unfortunately it is – and the level of personal abuse I witnessed being thrown out by the local party machines at each other was something I found profoundly depressing. While the ‘two tribes go to war’ mindset is something that can motivate people within the political tribes, for those of us outside of the tribes it’s something that puts people off politics

    I have huge respect for what Antony Carpen is doing, with and without Puffles2010. There are similarities in what he and I do, for example Antony has also recorded and publicised public meetings such as the recent Greater Cambridge City Deal Board.

    Antony does though take a different approach to me and started some of his activism in a different environment. Whereas I was battling the councils through a period when councils were opposing filming and reporting Antony has only (I think) been filming since a right to do so has been enshrined in law.

    Those commenting online on local matters are all doing so in very different ways, as you’d expect, and as is reasonable. Colin Rosenstiel and Phil Rodgers largely focus on hard facts and statistics, there are many people commenting on cycling, but I think I’m unique as an individual in regularly publishing my consultation responses and views on matters before the council.

  20. Neil

    Good grief. Imagine the fuss these politicians would make if they were important or interesting enough to be given the spitting image or stand-up comedian treatment rather than being held up for scrutiny by an unpaid public journalist.

    Is it fanciful to imagine that for every one of Richard’s “snipes”, there are ten voters who hold the same opinion or sentiment but do not have the wherewithal or inclination to demonstrate it publicly? It’s convenient that he does, because then such ridiculous situations as this one may occur. Perhaps the politicians involved might, as a result, get a few column inches out of it!

    From what I’ve read of this debate it’s clear that the large part of the problem here is the public’s cynicism and distrust of both politicians and the political machine. I’d like to suggest that the politicians involved in this – frankly pathetic – fracas spend their “pub-going with Richard” time engaging disenfranchised voters in politics and actually behaving like people we can respect to give us all more faith that we aren’t governed by a bunch of fools.

    The bottom line is that, as a politician, you should suck it up. Someone snipes at you and hurts your feelings? Hard lines. It’s not a job I would want nor could perform, but the kind of personal attacks I’ve seen in this discussion (and I must note objectively that only one person was the subject of actual personal abuse) further reduce my interest in politics or in being involved in a system where this happens. And that’s surely not in the interest of the self-interested politicians, is it? Or is it?

    I don’t want to be suspicious of my political representatives, but can you blame me? The lack of transparency in Cambridge is astonishing. Perhaps address that, then spend more time on being upset by a journalist!

    Neil.

  21. michael abberton

    It might be necessary to clarify there that Anthony’s comments do not relate to his experiences as a political blogger and vlogger, but to his campaign for election.

    As a 2ft tall cuddly dragon.

    His observations behind the scenes of tribalism amongst the major parties are not unusual unfortunately, and whilst this is without doubt and to some extent by design alienating and exclusive, it is part of the territory. And no doubt local parties are doing their best to combat this and be more welcoming to new members.

  22. Richard Taylor Article author

    In a comment above Cllr O’Reilly stated I was “cordially loathed by everyone in local government”. The Cambridge Liberal Democrats have issued a supportive tweet suggesting this is not the case:

    One piece I’m particularly proud of is my “reverse canvassing” exercise. One Labour councillor (from Brighton) has criticised that and I have responded on the comments thread on that article. It’s notable that Cllr O’Reilly there, in 2012, described my actions as a very fair and democratic thing to do.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      Of course. That’s why I’d never attack anyone and am always very careful and measured in what I do. If anything I do is likely to have an impact on others I try and ensure that impact is justifiable.

  23. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have recalled another instance when a councillor thought I was being rude. It occurred on the 4th of March 2015. I reported what happened:

    City Council officer Sarah Dyer directed the late tabled papers be given to the press. This prompted me to ask how “the press” was being defined by the council. The council’s legal officer’s advice was sought. Eventually following my query the material was offered to all present. I was able to raise this point as the meeting was suspended for councillors to read the late submitted papers.

    Cllr Marie-Louise Holland later accused me of shouting at a council officer. What I had done was reasonably loudly and clearly raise the question of how the press was being defined, while the meeting was suspended, in the hope that the meeting’s chair would hear and make a ruling. I was in a different part of the room to Cllr Holland so perhaps from her perspective she really did get the impression I was shouting at an officer; I am sceptical though and given she has quite passionately complained about me simply reporting her absence from council meetings I think there’s a possibility she was taking the opportunity to smear me.

  24. Richard Taylor Article author

    At one of the early Police Authority meetings I attended, before much, if any, tweeting or online activity, I, as a member of the public, was questioned, while the meeting was in session, about my membership of political groups, my views, and any intentions to stand for election. I now realise that was utterly inappropriate.

    I note that here as an anecdote (I can’t find anywhere I’ve mentioned it before) showing the hostile attitude councillors can adopt towards members of the public taking an interest in their activities, even in the absence of any background knowledge about that individual at all.

  25. Clare Blair

    Richard, one thing is very clear. You equate ‘receiving criticism’ of any kind with validation that you are doing everything right rather than giving you an pause for thought that there might be a middle way. In any work situation being told that a large number of your colleagues were taking offence at how you did something would surely be a reason to reflect more on how you communicate with them not simply to ‘justify’ it.

    It is true that those who stand for election have to deal with a range of responses and try not to get upset or take it personally but actually, and especially for those who are new to local government (and local government forms the bulk of those elected to office every year) it’s a learning curve. No-one takes on the role without some sense of wanting to do well for others and few think, or are told, about the reverse side of the coin and how to deal with some thinking you are there for other reasons, or are complicit in some scheme to deceive or cheat the system somehow. It took me a considerable time to come to terms with the intensity of focus that was in evidence. It’s noticeable how many other women councillors have felt the same even if you did not mean it to be taken that way. It is also a fact that on the whole councillors tend to respond to emails and social media very differently from MPs, who with few exceptions do not engage with many or who have offices who respond on their behalf. You do get many immediate responses and you have had many positive ones.

    This article reflects only a small number of those who have said something to you over the weekend, both in terms of what you consider disparaging remarks and how others responded or reflected on it. I find it sad that in writing about it you have focussed in the main on a sole female councillor.

    I have said to you many times over the years that you often bring up valuable points and equally that you do it in a way which can alienate as often as it helps. Having been ‘part’ of it since you first showed up at North Area Committee (about policing) in, I think, late 2007 or early 2008, I have first hand experience of how your approach has impacted not just on the councillors but also on residents and officers, all of whom share your wish for an effective and efficient council to work well for the City, even if some differ on policy or implementation.

    I realise you will read this and equally dismiss it as not relevant enough to your way of thinking as to affect what you consider is appropriate. It has been your response to every critique here and elsewhere over the last 7/8 years. You have also said that ‘causing stress/harm may be justified’. I only wish you could see that no, it isn’t and in the end it leads to worse scrutiny and more division. as well as the number of times that you provoke a strong response from those who feel unjustifiably pilloried.

    1. Ganesh Sittampalam

      > It took me a considerable time to come to terms with the intensity of focus that was in evidence. It’s noticeable how many other women councillors have felt the same even if you did not mean it to be taken that way.

      This is quite a different position to the original “misogynist” accusation from Cllr O’Reilly that you supported. Which is your position – do you think that Richard is disproportionately targeting female councillors, or is the targeting equally spread out across all councillors but the *effect* worse on women councillors?

    2. Richard Taylor Article author

      I find it sad that in writing about it you have focussed in the main on a sole female councillor.

      The reason I focused on Cllr O’Reilly was because she’s the Deputy Leader of the council and she, unprovoked, publicly called me “a tosser” and “Mr Potato Head” it had nothing at all to do with her gender. I’ve dealt proportionately with each person who joined in the attacks irrespective of gender.

      You have also said that ‘causing stress/harm may be justified’. I only wish you could see that no, it isn’t

      Ex City Councillor Blair has repeatedly made clear she feels this way, however in the case for example, of filming council meetings that argument has taken place, and both locally in Cambridge, and nationally in Parliament, and the decision has been taken that it is reasonable to film council meetings even if certain councillors find that distressing.

      The concept of harm being sometimes justified is well established in our society and is reflected in law.

      A society which didn’t permit causing upset would be a hugely restrictive and illiberal society.

  26. Clare Blair

    I think I answered that in my email to Richard in 2009 and again in 2011. I personally have never changed my view and others have said the same. The question, also raised above by someone else, as to whether the ‘reaction’ is differentiated by gender is one I don’t think I can answer except to say offering ‘challenge’ is not unique to Richard and yet in the main he’s had a similar reaction from many women for years.

    Like most women, I’ve experienced instances of mysogyny elsewhere, for instance when several leading female councillors and officers visited a London Council and the (male) Executive Councillor there announced we were going out to see a particular urban design feature and ‘watch pretty women walking by’. I challenged that too.

  27. Beth

    As a regular follower of various members of the Cambridge political scene (via blogs,Twitter, local news etc.) I’ve been watching these exchanges over the last few days both on this blog and on Twitter. Whilst a lot has been said I’d like to note the following:

    a) As a female, I find the thought of a ‘female-friendly’ scrutiny approach to those in a position which invites scrutiny sexist. I think it’s demeaning to suggest that criticism and scrutiny is aimed at cllrs because they identify as a female rather than that it being based on their actions or their position. All genders/identities should be open to the same scrutiny when taking on roles such as cllr/deputy-leader etc. I think it is a lot easier when at the receiving end of scrutiny, to throw out labels of misogony/racism etc. rather than looking at the criticism and perhaps trying to see why it is being made, and possibly learn from or embrace the criticism being offered as hard as that may be sometimes.

    b) I’ve found it interesting to learn more about how Richard thinks through what he publishes, which to me has been made clearer in the post above – whilst not everyone may agree with what he writes, I can see he certainly puts a lot of consideration into the comments he makes and comments are not made without solid foundation.

    c) Whilst there is clearly plenty of discussion about who said what, one thing I feel very strongly about is that when someone is in a position such as Deputy-Leader of the council, regardless of what is said about or to them, it is entirely inappropriate to use language such as described above, however strongly they feel about what was written. To me part of the role and increased allowance is a recognition of the professional attitude needed and this has been shown to be sadly lacking. Take this scenario away from this reality and place it in a large company i.e. BT – if you as a customer are commenting to a sales staff member about the actions of BT, and questioning them, then had this kind of commentary written about you in the public sphere by the Vice-chairman, I can only imagine the resulting firing, newspaper articles/watchdog programs. For this reason alone, Cllr O’Reilly’s actions are worthy of mentioning in this article.

    d) The level of commentary towards Richard was a solid stream of unpleasantness for at least 24 hrs, whilst I’m aware he has written over 60,000 tweets I do not have the perception these are targeted at any one person repetitively, and certainly I am not aware of any personal attacks such as mental health accusations and the childish name calling directed at Richard. I can only imagine that Richard must have felt under siege this weekend.

    e) Finally, this whole episode has made me even more wary of entering the political sphere, taking any action publicly or even writing down how I feel the city I live in could be run. I live in an amazing city that is mostly run well, but I’d like to feel welcome and able to input into the political debate but would fear inadvertently being at the receiving end of behaviour as shown this weekend. I wonder how many others are also afraid to do so – it’s unfair that mob mentality as displayed here is perhaps a large factor in keeping the political ‘elite’ the general public seemingly are tired of.

    I would like to imagine this sort of abuse won’t be seen again from those who run our city…

  28. Andrew Bower

    I find myself in total disagreement with the criticisms made above by councillors and local party activists. This despite having a lot of respect and affection for these particular politicians, who are head and shoulders in quality above their mute colleagues, the majority. Richard has added a huge amount to civic life in Cambridge and effected many positive changes. Accusations to the contrary are plainly wrong.

    A touchy area of disagreement appears to be over councillor allowances. I believe this stems from fundamentally different views on the role of councillors. Councillors frequently refer to their allowances as if they are compensation for time spent or lost earnings. They are not, which is why they are called allowances. I know councillors can work incredibly hard – as a sometime housemate of a very good one I saw it first hand – but it is still not a job.

    I confess that when I ran a campaign on lower city councillor allowances I had hit the wrong target. My view was that elected representatives should show regard for public sector pay freezes by cutting their own allowances but in practice the allowance is so low at the city council it would be unreasonable. I would not say the same about the county council – county councillor allowances are far too high and may discourage people from giving up their safe seats for fresh blood – leaving the dynamic talent to fight hard for marginal seats and end up the first out when polls shift [2009].

    But back on thread – the fundamental disagreement is between the view that councillors are a form of council worker and the view that they are there to set strategy. Councillors should be setting the political direction of the council – they don’t need offices embedded with councillor officers, otherwise we might look from pig to man… sorry, I mean from councillor to council officer, and not notice the difference. If councillors are doing too much work to fit in with a full time job perhaps they need to reorganise the council so that the public can have their day-to-day needs better served by the employed officers?

    When Richard sought to engage with Graham Bright as candidate for police and crime commissioner (whose *stated* programme as far as I can tell most closely matched Richard’s views), Richard was treated appallingly. It is no wonder that he has appeared to take pleasure in scrutinising our pompous PCC critically and with a hint of hostility – I don’t blame him one bit for that.

    I made it quite clear to Richard that I thought his tabloid-style sensationalisation of Chamali’s comments in hustings was wilfully misleading – as was, mischievously, the MP’s. He defended his stance and I still didn’t agree. However, having long before been blocked on Twitter by one of his prospective representatives I can understand he might not have been keen to give the benefit of the doubt.

    A bit of a theme emerges: Richard is keen on openness, transparency and communication from elected representatives and wannabes. It is an excellent mission and a public service. Those who thwart it are especially held to account. It seems fair to me.

    As for tweets about holidaying councillors – surely this is a little innocent humour? Self parody even? If not then Richard was clearly being silly. Either way it is surely of no consequence!

    Richard is held to a higher standard than not just other members of the public but councillors themselves. I think those councillors complaining on Richard should reflect on that. Councillors do work hard, risk damage to their careers and generally make huge sacrifices for their public service. But Richard does no less in what he does without the civic recognition – something that ought to be remembered when defending the right of councillors and candidates for a private life.

    It won’t wash as Clare says that councillors are new and face a “learning curve”. In a place as hard-fought as Cambridge they have by and large been elected by an intense propaganda campaign which, particularly in the case of the Lib Dems, is likely to be strong on heavily misleading claims about both the candidate and their opponent. This is done in their name; they cannot claim innocence.

  29. Richard Taylor Article author

    The campaign continues.

    Cambridge City Councillor, Labour’s Ann Sinnott has re-tweeted the allegation that me recording, and publishing, footage of a loud mob of Labour activists on the Market Square in Cambridge following the 2015 election count was “creepy, invasive harassment”.

    Cllr Sinnott is, according to her Twitter Bio, the council’s Lead Councillor on Domestic Violence/Abuse & Community Safety. She often represents Cambridge at the Police and Crime Panel.

    I have written a tweet directed at Cllr Sinnott saying: “Do you think filming people on the Market Square is creepy, invasive and harassing? Can you explain your retweet?”.

    The video is embedded above, along with my views on my actions.

  30. Edward

    I was there that morning (plus the night before!) when we won in cambridge. Are we not meant to feel emotional after a long hard fought battle with the lib dems? Are we not allowed to express that emotion how we see fit so long as it’s within the boundaries of the law? As I know I did plus many more.

    1. Stray Taoist

      Edward:

      Such a snide, passive aggressive response. You have unsuccessfully attempted to turn a smear _against_ Richard into _your_ right to be exuberant. Well done. (Any whinging ‘Are we not…’ reply always annoys me, as it invariably dodges the issue.)

      Whether the language used was just ‘exuberant’ (or tribally triumphalism, which I am acutely aware of given my heritage) or not is totally irrelevant. The point was Richard was accused of ‘creepy, invasive harassment’. Which it wasn’t. And you swerved even engaging with.

  31. Richard Taylor Article author

    It continues.

    One of my local councillors, and Cambridge City Council’s Executive Councillor for Housing, Labour’s Kevin Price has retweeted the tweet saying my filming of the loud mob of Cambridge Labour activists on the Market Square was “creepy, invasive harassment.”

    As I did with Cllr Sinnott I have tweeted to ask: “Do you think filming people on the Market Square is creepy, invasive and harassing? Can you explain your retweet?”.

    1. Justin Cousins

      781 views and no comments, so newsworthy Ricky, move along, nothing to see here. Anyway, in defense of Cllr. O’Reily, she is entitled to her own free speech, as are Labour student activists entitled to their free expression. Anyway, people have a right to be wrong, as you were wrong to imply Tory candidate in the GE (Fernando), said people would have to wear wristbands (I thought it was wrong of her to even suggest they “could” do that btw), but this is another example of how you’re the *”independent” local journalist comes across as very much as more like our local troll.

      * I say “independent”, what does that even mean? Especially given that you have anti-socialist tendencies. Or how about your sycophancy for your ‘principled’ hero and “genuine democrat”, (Douglas Carswell), who conveniently evaded difficult rebuttals to his talk about 30mins after he arrived at a local event, he ‘had to catch a train’.

  32. MC

    Dear Richard,

    I have to say I find the attacks on you and your conduct utterly ridiculous…

    In terms of calling those we elect to account, maybe I can share this anecdote with everyone to give people an example of the value of your efforts in calling those we elect to account ….

    In retrospect, and somewhat arrogantly, despite being a life long Conservative voter, one of the few political views I felt that I upheld despite such leanings is that I’ve always considered myself something of a “hippy liberal” in terms of freedom of the press, and also concerned myself well-informed on the history on the related of censorship issues too in UK law –coupled with also considering myself to be somewhat well informed on local news issues too…. However, were it not for your concerns regarding Graham Bright, I would not have come to realise my embarrassing and somewhat foolish actions of, I’ll admit, blindly voting for the Conservative candidate on the ballot paper, and thanks to you, coupled with some further research, I found myself realising to my genuine shame that I had voted for someone, who’s views on censorship as a Conservative MP made me feel honestly ashamed and idiotic in my decision to vote for him. How could I have been so foolish?

    So long may your efforts continue and you have my full support.

    There is never any harm in listening to an alternative opinion, and to be honest accusations of “your nastiness to new councillors and your long-standing misogyny is part of this” are something that I find hard to believe, from whatever political complexion that they come from – they seem to me at best, to be nothing more than a weak, cheap political shot in response to what I have considered over the years to be consistently robust questioning on your part. I certainly may not agree with many of your views, but it does me no harm at all to listen them – and I believe many of our elected officials would do well to do the same.

  33. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridge City Council’s Head of Legal wrote to me on the 7th of October 2015 to tell me the council is investigating a complaint about Cllr O’Reilly’s behaviour towards me:

    Dear Mr Taylor,

    I have received a complaint from a member of the public about twitter messages relating to you posted by Cllr O’Reilly. I have set out the terms of the complaint below my signature.

    I have consulted the Council’s “Independent Person” for code of conduct complaints about this. We agree that the complaint needs to be investigated formally. To ensure that the investigation is independent, I have appointed external lawyers experienced in dealing with standards complaints. The firm instructed is Geldards LLP. The solicitors who will undertake the investigation are Owen Willcox and Rebecca Hazeldine. They would like to contact you to talk about the complaint.

    I am writing, firstly, to let you know about the complaint and, secondly, to ask for your consent to pass your contact details to Owen Willcox and Rebecca Hazeldine. If you are willing to let me have a telephone number, that would be helpful. Please also let me know if you would rather they used a different email address.

    I attach the Council’s procedure for considering complaints relating to the Code of Conduct.

    Please let me know if you have any concerns or questions.

    Kind regards

    Simon Pugh
    Head of Legal Services

    Cambridge City Council
    Legal Services
    The Guildhall
    Cambridge
    CB2 3QJ
    DX 5854 Cambridge
    Telephone: 01223 457401
    Fax: 01223 457409
    Email: simon.pugh@cambridge.gov.uk

    Ref: UNS008724/406918

    The text of the complaint which was included with the message states:

    I wish to complain about the conduct of Councillor Carina O’Reilly and her treatment of Cambridge constituent Richard Taylor.

    I have no links in any shape or form to either individuals or the council. I am a very concerned citizen.

    Quite clearly O’Reilly is in violation of the council’s code of conduct, especially points 3.1 and 5, treating others with respect and bringing office/authority into disrepute.

    She has openly on social media for all to witness called him a hypocrite, a coward, unethical, a misogynist, a bully, a tosser, ‘Mr Potato Head’; accused him of ‘constant nasty attacks’, that he particularly goes ‘for new councillors and women’.

    She doesn’t appear however to offer any evidence, just childish, damaging slurs and innuendo and continues to harass him on Twitter with retweets to all her followers, intimating that his behaviour is not human. She had been forced by the negative publicity to admit that she acknowledges that he means well and is trying to do a worthwhile thing (passive-aggressively) but then accuses him of deliberately setting out to cause distress. She cannot even apologise without attacking him.

    And now she is using social media and retweeting to all her followers to try and pressure and guilt him into meeting her, even though he has made it clear he does not wish to do so.

    This behaviour is entirely unacceptable for anybody, let alone an unelected official, and requires immediate investigation.

    For relevant tweets see @carinaoreilly @rtayloruk and the blog response at [r]taylor.co.uk

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I am not very impressed with the investigatory skills of Owen Willcox and Rebecca Hazeldine of Geldards LLP if they need to ask the council how to contact me.

      I publish my email address, phone number and twitter username on every page of this website!

      My view is the council appointing solicitors in relation to this is a sickening waste of public money.

      I hope electors take note of how Cllr O’Reilly has behaved and take it into account when deciding who to elect to represent them in the future. I think this matter should be addressed at the ballot box. I have published this article and have drawn attention to Cllr O’Reilly and others’ behaviour so that electors can find out about it.

      Perhaps the council’s complaints process will help inform electors.

      As for why the investigating solicitors might want to contact me – I can only assume they want to know what impact Cllr O’Reilly’s actions had on me. I think it’s important not to take that into account – what matters is the impact they could have had on anyone trying to engage with how we run our society. I don’t think my attitude to the attacks or how strong I am and how able I am to deal with such behaviour is particularly relevant.

      Cllr O’Reilly’s attacks were made in public and they may well have impacted many people’s views of councillors and our democratic system.

      I will suggest the solicitors write to me in the first instance.

    2. Richard Taylor Article author

      The solicitors have written to me. I’ve pointed them to this article and, in response to a request to arrange a phone call, have asked them what they want to talk to me about.

  34. Richard Taylor Article author

    The solicitor, Owen, has written to me, marking his messages confidential, so I can only publish my replies:

    Owen,

    Could you please let me know what you wish to talk to me about.

    I have published an article about the matter you are investigating at:

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/carinaoreilly-attacks.html

    I expect that would cover most of what you might want to cover.

    I expect you may also wish to ask what impact Cllr O’Reilly’s actions had on me. I think it’s important not to take that into account – what matters is the impact they could have had on anyone trying to engage with how we run our society. I don’t think my attitude to the attacks or how strong I am and how able I am to deal with such behaviour is particularly relevant.

    I note Cllr O’Reilly’s attacks were made in public and they may well have impacted many people’s views of councillors and our democratic system.

    Regards,

    Richard Taylor
    Cambridge
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

    Owen,

    >[quoted material removed]

    I have reviewed the text of the complaint (which I have published at http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/carinaoreilly-attacks.html#comment-111631 ) and can see no reference to harassment.

    In any case I have further considered your request for information on the impact Cllr O’Reilly’s actions had on me.

    I have published some material, stating for example:

    “I don’t find being attacked an easy, or comfortable, thing to deal with.”

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/carinaoreilly-attacks.html#comment-111438

    I don’t think further information on the impact on me is relevant to an investigation into if Cllr O’Reilly has breached the council’s code of conduct. What matters is Cllr O’Reilly’s behaviour, not my, or anyone else’s response to it. I don’t think if I had read, or been aware of, the comments or not would be relevant to determining if the code has been breached.

    In addition I think details of the impact of Cllr O’Reilly’s actions amount to personal information which I don’t see a reason to share. Cllr O’Reilly and I do not know each other personally; Cllr O’Reilly has no reason to think the impact of her actions would be any different if directed towards me than against anyone else.

    >[quoted material removed]
    I’m not aware of anything which isn’t accessible via a search on Twitter.com or on my website at:

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/carinaoreilly-attacks.html

    If you still consider a phone call required – 2pm on Tuesday the 13th will be fine.

    [phone number - published in page header]

    Regards,

    Richard Taylor
    Cambridge
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      >and can see no reference to harassment.
      I searched for harassment and missed:

      ” just childish, damaging slurs and innuendo and continues to harass him on Twitter ”

      The solicitor, Owen, mentioned this in our brief (~15 minute) phone call on the 13th of October.

      He stated that his way of working is to draft a statement on behalf of each “party” for them to agree, so it could be used to inform an subsequent consideration. I suggested using my above article as mine.

      His phone call came from a London phone number.

      His only noteworthy question was if there had been “any more history” between me and Cllr O’Reilly; I explained that I had been a constituent in her ward when she was elected and all our exchanges had been in public.

      Other than that he basically spent the call thanking me for the useful article and emails helping him find the relevant tweets – hopefully my help will result in a lower bill to Cambridge City Council for his investigation!

  35. Richard Taylor Article author

    The solicitors have prepared material to send to the council.

    In a move which would be hilarious if it wasn’t funded by public money they’ve printed out this article and scanned it in (then emailed a copy to me!)

    They’ve generated 98 pages of material!

    They’ve accidental released to me the name used by the person who made the complaint. It appears to me to be a meaningless collection of letters. The name is one “word”. Google’s only suggestion for it is that it might be a Uzbek name.

    I’ve replied to the solicitor :

    Owen,

    I’m not prepared to sign the document you have drafted as my statement. I think it should be presented as what it is – your work.

    It appears odd that “my statement” should cover things I have no first hand knowledge of, such as the name used by the complainant and details of the complaint.

    One additional note on the content – I have no idea which time zone times on old tweets are displayed in.

    In terms of being helpful to any consideration by the council I am happy to offer my article at:

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/carinaoreilly-attacks.html

    I don’t think the proposed statement adds anything to what is published, and linked, from there.

    Regards,

    Richard Taylor
    Cambridge
    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk

  36. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cambridge City Council’s Head of Legal Services and Monitoring Officer Simon Pugh has passed on the following apology to me from the Deputy Leader of the Council Labour’s Cllr Carina O’Reilly:

    “I refer to a complaint made by a member of the public in respect of comments I made on Twitter regarding Richard Taylor. Richard Taylor is a well-known local blogger and user of Twitter. He posts his view and invites debate. Debate on these media is often robust and Mr Taylor and others express their views frankly. It is right that local councillors should be able to engage in debate in a similarly robust manner. However, I recognise that councillors are in a different position to members of the public and are bound by their Council’s code of conduct. I accept that some of the terms in which I referred to Mr Taylor I overstepped the boundaries of legitimate debate. I apologise sincerely for this and for offence caused to Mr Taylor and to others. I will make sure I am more considered in my use of twitter in future”.

    The council had engaged professional investigators and following their report the monitoring officer Mr Pugh concluded:

    Cllr O’Reilly was in breach of the Council’s Code of Conduct by reason of two of the terms in which she referred to you. Her use of these terms amounts to not treating you with respect.

    Full Report by the Monitoring Officer Mr Pugh

    Outcome of complaint by “[Redacted by RT]” against Cllr O’Reilly regarding use of social media

    The complaint.

    The complaint was made by an anonymous person describing him/herself as “[Redacted by RT]”. The complaint was:

    1. That Councillor O’Reilly was in breach of Cambridge City Council’s ( “the Council” ) Code of Conduct for Councillors ( “the Code” ), in particular paragraphs 3.1 and 5, being an obligation to treat others with respect and a prohibition against conduct which could reasonably be regarded as bringing a member’s office or authority into disrepute.
    2. More specifically:
      • a. that Councillor O’Reilly had openly on social media called Mr Richard Taylor “a hypocrite, a coward, unethical, a misogynist, a bully, a tosser, Mr Potato Head”; accused him of “ constant nasty attacks “ and that he particularly goes “ for new councillors and women”.
      • b. That Councillor O’Reilly did not appear to offer any evidence, just what the Complainant describes as childish, damaging slurs and innuendo and harassment of Mr Taylor on Twitter with retweets to her followers, intimating that his behaviour is not human.
      • c. That Councillor O’Reilly used social media to try to pressurise Mr Taylor to agree to meet her.

    My findings

    My findings are:

    Complaint a)

    The terms set out above, which Councillor O’Reilly used in relation to Mr Taylor are all capable of amounting to a breach of paragraph 3.1 of the Council’s Code; which imposes an obligation to treat others with respect. However, whether there has been a breach of the Code needs to be assessed against her entitlement to freedom of expression, as articulated in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. My conclusion is that, with the exception of the terms “tosser” and Mr Potato Head”, the use of the terms mentioned falls within Councillor O’Reilly’s right of freedom of expression. The use of the other terms formed part of a robust debate in a social medium known for forthright speaking. She was engaging in debate about matters raised by Mr Taylor, which were matters of public concern.

    Councillor O’Reilly has accepted that her use of the terms “tosser” and Mr Potato Head went beyond the boundaries of legitimate debate. My conclusion that use of these terms breaches the Code of Conduct obligation to treat others with respect. I have considered carefully whether Councillor O’Reilly’s conduct breaches the obligation in paragraph 5 of the Code which prohibits conduct which could reasonably be regarded as bringing a member’s office or authority into disrepute. I have concluded that it does not. In making these comments, Councillor O’Reilly was not acting on behalf of the Council or carrying out duties associated with being a councillor. Whilst she may be criticised personally for some of the comments she made, I do not believe that her conduct can reasonably be held to bring the role of a councillor or the City Council into disrepute.

    Complaint b)

    I am satisfied that, with the exception of the two terms identified above, there was no breach of the Code in the comments Councillor O’Reilly made.

    Complaint c)

    I do not accept that this is substantiated. There was an exchange in which Councillor O’Reilly offered to meet Mr Taylor to attempt to resolve the issues between themselves but I do not consider that Councillor O’Reilly was pressuring Mr Taylor to meet her, and she was not in breach of the Code.

    Councillor O’Reilly’s offer to apologise

    Councillor O’Reilly has also offered to make an apology for overstepping the bounds of legitimate debate regarding some of the terms in which she referred to Mr Taylor. She is willing to apologise in these terms:

    “I refer to a complaint made by a member of the public in respect of comments I made on Twitter regarding Richard Taylor. “Richard Taylor is a well-known local blogger and user of Twitter. He posts his views and invites debate. Debate on these media is often robust and Mr Taylor and others express their views frankly. It is right that local councillors should be able to engage in debate in a similarly robust manner. “However, I recognise that councillors are in a different position to members of the public and are bound by their Council’s code of conduct. I accept that some of the terms in which I referred to Mr Taylor I overstepped the boundaries of legitimate debate. I apologise sincerely for this and for offence caused to Mr Taylor and to others. I will make sure I am more considered in my use of twitter in future”.

    My conclusion

    I consider that Councillor O’Reilly ‘s offer of an apology is an appropriate resolution to this complaint. She has accepted that her comments went beyond the boundary of legitimate debate. I will write to all councillors alerting them to the dangers of the inappropriate use of social media as part of public debate. The Council will also continue to draw attention to issues surrounding use of social media as part of training for newly elected members of the Council. I will contact the complainant to let him know of the outcome and the terms of Councillor O’Reilly’s apology. I will also write to Mr Taylor.

  37. Richard Taylor Article author

    I’d like to know how the outcome of complaints and investigations like these are made public, I’m not aware of a formal mechanism. We should all be able to see the outcomes of complaints about councillors, especially if significant amounts of public money is spent on investigating them as in this case.

  38. Richard Taylor Article author

    This complaint is mentioned in the council’s annual complaints report without giving the name of the councillor in question.

    The report also doesn’t give the costs of the investigation. I went into the council during the open period for the accounts and it appears the lawyers were paid over £3,000 for their report.

    I have made a submission to the Civic Affairs Committee on the 27th of September 2016:

    I am disappointed the annual complaints report doesn’t identify the councillors against whom complaints have been made (and in some cases upheld). Given public money has been spent compiling reports and making recommendations in the cases of complaints against councillors I would like to see such reports published; they could help inform people’s votes at future elections. I would like to see the costs of investigations pro-actively published too.

  39. Richard Taylor Article author

    Councillors at the Civic Affairs committee decided that sufficient transparency over the spending was given by their proactive publication of payments to suppliers over £500.

    The entries, for payments to the solicitors Geldards from the November 2015 and June 2015 details of payments to suppliers over £500 are as follows:

    Cambridge City Council 30/11/2015 5116357 1550.00 GELDARDS LLP 95367 Chief Executives 0470 S&S – Consultants & Professional Fees Members Support Legal Services
    Cambridge City Council 22/06/2016 5127004 1078.00 GELDARDS LLP 95367 Chief Executives 0470 S&S – Consultants & Professional Fees Members Support Legal Services
    Cambridge City Council 22/06/2016 5127005 600.00 GELDARDS LLP 95367 Chief Executives 0470 S&S – Consultants & Professional Fees Members Support Legal Services

    Councillors don’t include any description of what the payments were for in the published material so there is no way for members of the public reading those entries to know they are in connection with the engagement of lawyers to investigate a complaint against a councillor. I have been told they do relate to the investigation of Cllr O’Reilly as I was told this was the case when I went in to “inspect the accounts” although the invoices themselves didn’t give the subject matter of the report either.

    Councillors at the Civic Affairs committee raised no objection to apologies being given in private for statements made in public and nor did they raise any query about the solicitors’ expensive opinion that meaningless insults are unacceptable from a councillor but baseless, meaningful, insults are fine.

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