In a world where almost every news bulletin provokes gloom, despondency and an increasing tendency towards incandescent rage, how nice to follow a story that raises a genuine smile. Argyll and Bute council just got owned by a little girl.
As part of a literacy project, nine-year-old Martha Payne decided to write about school meals on her NeverSeconds blog. She rated the food she was served in marks out of ten and posted photographs of the meals by way of illustration. Not content with merely honing her IT and writing skills, Martha`s blog also set out to raise money for charity, in this case the intention is to fund the building of a kitchen to feed hungry children in Malawi. One might imagine with both local and national government either destroying education through malicious intent or by sheer incompetence, Martha`s efforts would be embraced by the half-wits in control as an example of good news and success. Not so, Argyll and Bute council banned her from taking photographs in the school canteen.
The ire of the faceless officers based in the bustling metropolis of Lochgilphead was caused by a piece in the Daily Record which is part of the Trinity Mirror group. The rag later described the headline that called for the sacking of dinner ladies as “light hearted”. Quite what processed Argyll and Bute council to censor a primary school pupil rather than complaining about the Daily Record is anybody’s guess especially as Martha seems to enjoy the atmosphere of the canteen, gets on well with the catering staff and has awarded some meals ten out of ten. One clue might be the relationship between the tabloid paper and political allegiances of Argyll and Bute councillors. The Daily Record openly supports the Scottish Labour Party and the council is controlled by the Scottish National Party. In addition to 13 SNP councillors, the authority has 16 Independents, four Libdems, three Tories and not a single Labour elected member. If he is not too busy, perhaps my noble Lord Leveson might wish to investigate.
The paranoia displayed by a council usually engaged in discussing the need for a census of stags and the frequency of ferries to distant, picturesque islands is, sadly, becoming the default position of most local authorities. In a bizarre press release, the public servants of Argyll and Bute claimed that the little girl`s blog published “unwarranted attacks on its schools catering service which have led catering staff to fear for their job. The information presented in it misrepresented the options and choices available to pupils. However, this escalation means we have had to act to protect staff from the distress and harm it was causing.” What? The noise of droppings left by the Monarch of the Glen council press officer hitting the extractor forced the local SNP leader Roddie McCuish onto the World at One to reverse the ban and again allow the subversive activity of photographing potato croquettes.
This level of nonsense is being replicated across the nation as hopeless local authorities attempt to equate legitimate criticism with wrongdoing and even terrorism. The deeply disturbing Draft Communications Bill which will allow government to monitor all our phone calls, tweets and blog posts at a cost of £1.8billion is designed to silence objection and not, as a succession of cabinet minister’s claim, to protect us from organised crime, drug dealers, suicide bombers and those sub-humans who choose to abuse children. The coalition government has clearly learned the art of suppression from its valued trading partners in China, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Here, nestling between the magnificent grouse moors of Cannock and Pheasey Park Farm, Walsall council will no doubt embrace the Draft Communications Bill with all the enthusiasm it displays when enforcing the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act of 2000. RIPA, you will no doubt remember, allows local councils to undertake covert surveillance of the public and its employees if the council suspects the planning and execution of acts of terrorism and other life threatening offences intent on destabilising public order or the fabric of society. You may also remember when Walsall council leader Mike Bird went on the radio to defend spying on council workers who threw a sickie and residents who put the wrong kind of rubbish into the wrong kind of bin. He`s gonna love the Draft Communications Bill.
When a council decides to keep everything important in the dark and attempts to throw up a smoke screen of banal, irrelevant, asinine and anodyne “engagement” with social media, bloggers like Martha Payne become invaluable if anything approximating to truth is to be made available. In Walsall, the failing council is spending money on printing and distributing 100,000 leaflets in a back-to-basics re-education programme regarding recycling. It required the redoubtable Brownhills Bob to expose this hokum for what it was; complete and utter rubbish. The borough`s recycling is now being taken to Leicester where a cheaper contractor is unable to process the stuff and is lobbing it into landfill and our council tells us it`s all our fault. If Argyll and Bute are capable of producing bizarre press releases, they have been outshone by the Walsall press office. Here is an extract from the response to the diligent work of Brownhill`s finest:
“Just to confirm, they`re not struggling with volumes. Far from it. Their unit is running within capacity, as we understand it. However, across the country are being much stricter in what they are allowin. Cllr Harris says.” What? Note the careful use of “as we understand it”. At least Argyll and Bute and the little girl that they are so frightened of can spell and have a basic grasp of grammar and sentence construction. Perhaps the councillor should stick to collecting the fares for the dodgems as he is not very good at collecting rubbish and is unlikely to collect a gold star for his use of English.
It has been suggested that Argyll and Bute council should engage young Martha to train its press office in the use of social media. She might be able to educate them in tactics to avoid the Streisand Effect, an episode where the aging chanteuse mistook the action of coastal erosion for an invasion of privacy and almost fell off a cliff of embarrassment. If the dimwits north of border pass up on Ms Payne, perhaps we could persuade her to relocate to Walsall. After about a year in the press office, she would be qualified to be the council`s chief executive. After that, she could become council leader and then Prime Minister. That prospect is, of course, unlikely as she and every other child at school has to first survive the complete insanity that is being inflicted by Michael Gove. Martha, though, has had the last laugh. Traffic to her website and, more importantly, donations to her chosen charity have gone through the roof.
However, there is a downside. Now, as a known troublemaker, it will not be the Daily Record that will be hacking her phone and monitoring her blog for sedition. It will be her government.