Audit process not a threat

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From Mr Peter Bradley

Sir: It seems to me that the signatories to the letter headlined "Politics may cost councillors their jobs" (22 February) need a thorough lesson in democratic principles. They contend that if the District Auditor's view of propriety is correct, councillors everywhere place themselves at "personal, professional and financial risk" every time they vote. That is, of course, nonsense. The vast majority of councillors of all parties and throughout the country behave perfectly properly and have nothing to fear.

But if councillors vote for a policy that they know to be improper, they are breaking the law and ought to fear the consequences. That is not a new principle, though it clearly astonishes your correspondents.

The letter's authors go on to claim that Westminster's auditor has "decided that politics should play no part in local government". He has said no such thing. No one believes it is wrong for politicians to promote politics which, while reasonable, lawful and in the public interest, may boost their party's popularity and result in electoral support. The charge against Westminster's Conservatives is that while their policies were designed almost exclusively to gain electoral advantage, they were not reasonable, lawful nor in the public interest and they knew it.

Finally, the Conservatives inveigh against the audit process. They do not acknowledge that it arises from Conservative legislation. They did not complain when it was used against Labour authorities. Perhaps they could not imagine then that it might one day be applied to themselves.

Nevertheless, the public hearings that concluded on 7 February gave Shirley Porter and others the opportunity to make their case. They did not take it but, instead, mounted a sustained attack on the auditor.

Local government is not under threat from the auditor. It is, however, deeply wounded by those Conservatives who confuse the public interest with political advantage. They really do have a case to answer.

Yours faithfully,

PETER BRADLEY

Deputy Leader, the Opposition

City of Westminster

London, SW1

23 February

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