I could have written this blog post back in September, when the Conservative Group on Plymouth City Council opposed extending the webcasting of our city council meetings, as approved not long after Labour took control of the council last May. Councillor Ian Darcy referred to it as the “shackling” of the city council to the tune of £100,000 (although the real figure was £74,000) I am a great fan of webcasting, not just because it means I get to watch my speeches back again and again, but because it means those unable to come and watch the meetings – those in employment, education, those with caring or childcare responsibilities – are able to do so from home.
The Conservatives in Plymouth have been consistently opposed to webcasting our council meetings, and when I spoke during the debate (1hr 54min) , I came to the conclusion that they are embarrassed of their views, and they don’t want them to be heard outside of the chamber or the our “independent, right of centre” local newspaper. It seems that this isn’t something restricted to Tories in Plymouth, after the Conservative Party removed a decade worth of speeches from their website and the main internet library.
As reported here, the Conservatives have removed speeches from 2000 to 2010 – the Tory Party’s supposed “modernisation period” – as a move which makes it considerably more difficult to find out what David Cameron’s party pledged to do before they formed a government in 2010. It does make it more difficult to pin Cameron down on the speech he made, as quoted here, about the National Health Service, where he promised that “with the Conservatives there will be no more of the tiresome, meddlesome, top-down re-structures that have dominated the last decade of the NHS…So yes, I’m proud to say the Conservatives will stop these pointless, retrogressive re-organisations and closures.” Luckily, though, lots of helpful people are scouring the internet as we speak to make sure that the Conservatives aren’t able to just rub out ten years of their existence, and are able to be held to account on things that they have said.
The question is – why are the Conservatives so keen to rewrite history? They claim it’s to “keep their revamped website up to date”, but it brings to mind obvious questions about accountability and transparency, which is laughable when speeches deleted include ones where ” senior members of the party promised, if elected, to use the internet to make politicians accountable” In fact, The New Statesman quote lots of speeches in their take on the story which makes the whole affair particularly laughable. The Conservative Party go as far as to say that “these changes allow people to quickly and easily access the most important information we provide – how we are clearing up Labour’s economic mess, taking the difficult decisions and standing up for hardworking people.” Utterly laughable indeed.
Sheila Gilmore MP summed the whole thing up the best – that “it will take more than David Cameron pressing delete to make people forget about his broken promises and failure to stand up for anyone beyond a privileged few”. The Conservatives might be keen to pretend that they didn’t make speeches committing to such things as a “two per cent a year spending rises for the next three years. This will mean real increases for our public services” as promised by Gideon himself – and you can find 5 other speeches which the Tories didn’t want you to read here – but we know that they happened, and it will take more than an internet cleanse for us to make sure the Tories are held accountable.
I’d say the same thing to David Cameron as I did to the Conservative Group in Plymouth in September – I can’t blame you for being embarrassed of your views, because I would be too.