Open Letter to Clive Hart from Mark Nottingham

Dear Clive Hart - Leader of Thanet Council Labour Group,

It is with considerable regret that I find myself addressing you in public. Yet you refuse to speak to me or correspond on the very serious matter of the many serious errors in Thanet Labour Party’s selection of candidates for the May elections.

As Labour Group Leader, you have considerable influence and sit on all the relevant committees. You have used your votes to approve all of the actions which I detail below. I hold you responsible as Leader for the actions of Thanet Labour Party, and I refer to you as shorthand for the many aspects of Thanet Labour Party that are involved in this matter.

Your actions threaten to damage Labour’s prospects in the Thanet District Council elections in May; elections in which Labour should have a great opportunity. Thanet Conservative councillors have a damning history of misconduct. Two Conservative councillors convicted of criminal offences. One convicted for animal cruelty, and the other’s repeated drunkenness resulting in a prison sentence after endangering members of the public.

In addition, a Conservative Leader and Deputy Leader disciplined by Thanet Standards Board for misconduct. The current Conservative Deputy Leader has spread smear stories about you anonymously, which as you know I exposed. Another Conservative councillor was found to be maximising his expenses whilst living in Panama. The current Leader continues this record, appointing to his personally selected Cabinet councillors with records of misconduct.

Your actions threaten to bring the good reputation so many Thanet Labour councillors have worked so hard to develop down to Conservative levels. I hear you speaking, hypocritically, for Labour at meetings. At the Thanet Council meeting on 20/1/11 you spoke forcefully about the importance of proper professional selection proceedings. The reality is you appear to have done everything you can to fix the reselection of Cllr. Kay Dark for Northwood Ward.

On 13/1/11 you issued a press release complaining about a Conservative in a meeting “Attempting to Gag a Labour Councillor”. Yet you have authorised emails to every Labour Party member in Thanet gagging me and in effect ‘sending me to Coventry’. There is no place for that in the Labour Party rule book. Surely a real Leader would want to get all the facts, not support cover-ups.

At the October meeting of Ramsgate Branch Labour Party a vote was held to select the candidates for the Northwood Ward which I currently represent. I was not selected but it quickly became clear that I was the victim of a smear campaign against myself. My fellow Northwood Councillor Kay Dark is Labour Group Chief Whip. She wrote a false report about me.
As a direct rival for the same seat this was very convenient for her. In the report Kay Dark wrote that I had had problems with the Standards Committee (the Local Government Disciplinary system). A serious charge, but one without foundation. I have had vexatious allegations made against me maliciously by Conservative councillors, but every time they have been thrown out.

This report was produced by Kay Dark in August 2011. For months prior to the selection meeting she was able to spread this misinformation. There is no place in Labour Party rules for one candidate to denigrate another, yet Kay Dark has done this to me. You have taken no action despite receiving written evidence.

I find this particularly disappointing in view of the loyalty I have shown you. One of the false, malicious and unfounded Standards Complaints made against me, which Kay Dark slurs me with came from Conservative criminal Cllr. Ted Watt-Ruffell, the kitten killer. I still have the email and photo you sent to produce this blog to support your wife Sandy Hart’s Dane Valley by-election campaign. You were the author, yet I take the consequences.....

I note that I received another vexatious Standards Complaint relating to a post which was written by one of the people you are working closely with. It is ironic that Kay Dark is able to falsely slur me when my blog has been an effective tool for you personally and Thanet Labour and another selected candidate.

Kay Dark also wrote about me in her Chief Whip’s report that
“I am inclined to move away from the party line.”
Another false slur she was able to circulate for months. You authorised that this report on me should be kept secret, whilst Kay Dark was able to repeat this view as the ‘official’ view of Thanet Labour Party for months. I had no sight of this report until weeks after the October selection meeting. You consider this to be fair.

I should have had sight of this report before the selection meeting so I could rebut Kay Dark’s falsehoods.

There is no place in the Labour Party for secret reports on colleagues.

After the Ramsgate selection meeting, it quickly became apparent that to secure her selection Kay Dark had seriously misled the selection meeting. Kay Dark claimed in her speech that as a Northwood councillor she attended all of the Northwood Ward Police and Communities Together (PACT) meetings. Crime is a really important issue for Northwood people. Five witnesses provided written statements. I have checked the police records and Kay Dark has not attended any of the meetings.

Kay Dark also wrongly claimed that she worked closely with her fellow ward councillors. That is impossible. Kay Dark does not turn up to work with me and Liz Green at meetings and canvassing in Northwood.

One of Kay Dark’s friends went around saying that I worked full time in Brussels and was never seen in Northwood Ward. For the record my job is based in London, and I attend the vast majority of meetings in Northwood Ward – what would be expected from a Labour councillor. There are plenty of minutes of meetings to confirm this.

It became evident with the results of the selection vote that Kay Dark had succeeded with her spreading of smears. Combined with her preparedness to falsify her record this meant that she topped the poll.

You compounded this by several serious procedural errors. There was no shortlisting, the meeting was not quorate, and candidates’ records should have been available at the meeting for inspection, the Chair of the meeting nominated his preferred candidate demonstrating bias. As you know from previous correspondence there were other procedural errors which favoured rival candidates.

How dare you stand up in Thanet Council and talk about the importance of proper selection procedures!

You arranged an ‘investigation’. It was agreed that there would be a meeting where my and Kay Dark’s evidence could be equally considered. This would be together with a Cllr. Liz Green the third sitting Northwood Ward councillor who had also made a complaint about Kay Dark. You together with Alan Poole then cancelled this meeting and arranged in its place a secret procedure. Your deputy Alan Poole prevented additional evidence I had being submitted for consideration.

At this meeting Kay Dark was ‘exonerated’.

You have claimed that Kay Dark’s misleading of the Northwood selection meeting had not affected the outcome.

I have done a survey of Labour members. 10 out of 10 them said they would vote for a candidate who attended all the meetings with the police in the ward they represented.
0 out of 10 of them said they would vote for a candidate who attended none of the meetings in the ward they represented.

Your view that Kay Dark’s misleading of the selection meeting had no impact on the voting is as absurd as it is unfounded. I have since obtained a copy of some of the explanations Kay Dark put forward at the meeting where she was ‘exonerated’.

Kay Dark claimed she works in a ward and is effectively ‘locked in.’ She actually works in a residential home not a hospital ward. The home’s doors are locked; the lock is a push button keypad. You press a few digits in a certain order and employees can freely come and go. Employees at Kay Dark’s workplace can freely leave the premises. There is a steady flow of employees going for cigarette breaks throughout the day, and staff do have lunch breaks and leave their workplace! It would be a serious breach of health and safety by her employer if employees could not freely come and go. Kay Dark could use her lunch hour to attend the lunchtime meetings with the police. These are held 5 minutes away from her workplace; she chooses not to do so. She has misled the ‘exoneration panel’, just like she misled the Ramsgate selection meeting.

Kay Dark claimed to the ‘exoneration panel’ that she is unable to attend daytime meetings. Kay Dark is a member of Thanet Council’s Licensing Committee which meets in the daytime. She has chosen to sit on a daytime committee rather than a committee which sits in the evening. I note there has been a £30 per meeting allowance for attending Licensing Committee.

Kay Dark was able to find time to attend many free lunches when she was Mayor of Ramsgate from 2008-2009, and yet Kay Dark refuses to attend lunchtime meetings in Northwood to work for her constituents. I draw the conclusion that this because that there is neither a free lunch nor any payment of allowances when she meets her constituents in Northwood. Thanet councillors are paid £4,360 a year and should earn this by attending meetings in their wards with their constituents in my view. I regret that you and Alan Poole appear to not share this view.

Kay Dark further claimed that she had asked for the time of meetings to be changed so that she could attend them. This has never been raised at the police (PACT) meetings as Kay Dark claimed from all the records I have examined. However, whilst checking these records, Northwood police (PACT) meetings have been held at 6pm and 7pm. Kay Dark has not attended those meetings either. Once again Kay Dark has submitted false information and it has been accepted by you without any checking of her assertions.

There have been other daytime, evening and weekend meetings in Northwood Ward on housing, traffic, parks and other issues. Kay Dark has not attended any of these. I cannot find a single public meeting which Kay Dark has attended with residents in her ward in the last 4 years. I am advised this may even be the case for the last 8 years. I think you and Alan Poole are wrong to believe this is an acceptable record by Labour Party standards.

The Chair of the ‘Exoneration Panel’ claims that Kay Dark provided evidence that she had attended public meetings in Northwood Ward. I have asked for the minutes of these public meetings which Kay Dark claims she has attended. I have been refused them and told they are secret.

Can you explain to me why you are keeping minutes of public meetings secret? This is bizarre. Thanet Labour Party run by you is like some kind of Catch 22. They are public meetings!
It has been suggested to me that there may have been false, or fabricated evidence submitted by Kay Dark and this may be was exonerated. Why will you not allow scrutiny of these very serious matters? Why the secrecy?

By keeping these matters secret, you were hypocritical when you demanded Thanet’s Conservative administration release the District Auditor’s correspondence at Full Council on 20.1.11. The Labour Party believes in transparency about the attendance record of its representatives. Why are you bringing Thanet Labour Party into disrepute by ignoring this?
Can you explain why you did not want Kay Dark’s evidence tested or challenged, and why you rely on it? Yet my evidence has been systematically disregarded and you have effectively branded me as someone who submits false accusations and is a liar.

As Thanet Labour Leader you have to write a form for the Chief Whip (Kay Dark) assessing her suitability to be a councillor. You have received several written submissions expressing concern about Kay Dark’s record, and many verbal reports from several Labour councillors unhappy with her record. What did you write in the section of the Labour Party form asking about Kay Dark’s activity in terms of ward work? What did you write for her record on securing press coverage? Were they truthful and accurate?

Did you report on Kay Dark’s repeated refusal to produce Labour Party newsletters and to campaign and deliver literature within Northwood ward? As you know there has been no Northwood newsletter produced for over a year because of Kay’s refusal, and your complicit support for her. Why did you approve her candidacy when you had been provided with evidence which brought her suitability into doubt?

It would be fascinating to see what you wrote, but again this remains another secret document.
You are also aware that there has been a complaint against Kay Dark by my fellow Northwood Labour councillor Liz Green. She discovered that Kay Dark had been secretly working with Conservative councillors to undermine her as a Labour Kent County Councillor. When Kay Dark receives casework she has been referring it to the Ramsgate Conservative County Councillor, not Liz Green the Ramsgate Labour County Councillor.

Liz Green was also competing, like me for the Northwood ward selection with Kay Dark. Again Kay Dark took action to undermine a rival for the Northwood selection.

The ‘investigation’ into Liz Green’s complaint demonstrates low standards of conduct. When made aware of this serious matter one of your closest associates demanded the handing over of evidence in a bullying manner. Once received the matter was taken away from the Thanet Local Government Committee without Liz Green being made aware of what would happen.

You arranged that Thanet Labour Group should ‘investigate’. A committee was set up in secret. The committee provided all the evidence to Kay Dark. The committee did not seek to check any details of the evidence with Liz Green. It did not even tell Liz Green it was meeting. It did not call Liz Green as a witness. Again procedures were ignored so that in effect Kay Dark could be given an easy ride and her testimony could not be questioned. There are no papers I am aware of from this meeting and my request for them has been denied. I suggest that having misled the selection panel and the ‘exoneration committee’, it is likely she mislead this ‘investigation’ too.

When the Chair of the ‘investigation’ notified Liz Green they were shocked to find out that she had no knowledge of the ‘investigation.’ Liz Green was appalled to hear the ‘investigation’ had considered Kay Dark’s conduct in secret. This undermined her, and with the ’investigation’ concluding it was acceptable for Kay Dark to work with a Conservative councillor and undermine a Labour councillor. The Chair acknowledged that they had been misled about the terms of reference of the ‘investigation’ they had carried out. The Chair refused to take any further evidence or to reconsider the ‘investigation’s’ decision.

This ‘investigation’ should have been reported to Thanet Labour Group.

It has not been.

As a member of Thanet Labour Group I have asked for details of the secret Labour Group officers meeting to consider the ’investigation’ from the Labour Group Secretary. The Secretary responded:

“I have no recollection of this meeting.”

The Secretary consulted you. You advised

“The meeting did take place for a couple of minutes, but I do not recall what was discussed or decided. There are no minutes of that meeting as far as I know.”

This meeting took place on 9th December. It is surprising that you have no recollection of such an important meeting which is relatively recent, and that no record was made of the meeting.

This is not line with Labour Party procedures. It would appear you have a selective memory.
You are seeking to rely on this ‘investigation’ which has not been approved by Thanet Labour Group to seek imposition of Kay Dark as a candidate by Thanet Local Government Committee.
You are now seeking to use the ‘investigation’s’ report for approval without taking this matter through the proper body, full Labour Group.

Finally, I turn to the threats and intimidation that those working with you have made. I have been warned I will be referred to Thanet Standards (disciplinary) Committee for misconduct, for tweeting information during committee meetings.

I have been passed a document showing the mindset of Alan Poole who as your Deputy and Chair of Thanet Local Government has had overall responsibility for the selection process. In it he writes

“Mark is unfairly and viciously harassing Cllr Kay Dark. He has not supplied a scrap of evidence of a sufficient standard to warrant her de-selection. I believe Kay Dark has a very good case to request the Group take disciplinary action for bullying and harassment.” 

My complaint is not a consequence of being deselected. As you know I have made two previous complaints in the last 4 years about Kay Dark’s failure to attend meetings in Northwood ward, undertake casework and to campaign for the Labour Party in Northwood ward. You will recall that Steve Ladyman MP had to come in to resolve and quash the previous cover up of Kay Dark’s inactivity in 2008. You were copied in on the relevant correspondence so are well aware this matter is a long term problem. Kay Dark has repeatedly been asked to attend to her constituents in Northwood but has ignored these requests.

I know you argue that the problem between me and Kay Dark is a personality clash. I fully accept that I do not get on well with lazy councillors who just pick up the money, ignore constituents and fail to campaign for the Labour Party.

Alan Poole argues,

“Mark has not supplied a scrap of evidence of a sufficient standard to warrant her de-selection.” 

I think that minutes of meetings taken by police should be seen as reliable. I am disappointed Alan Poole is contemptuous of them. I think too witness statements by Labour Party members should again be seen as reliable. Again Alan is contemptuous, his bias toiwards Kay Dark is clear.

Alan Poole is entitled to his opinion. It is hard though not to suggest that he has an almost religious devotion in the way that he is prepared to take the word of Kay Dark over any other person, and in the face of written evidence supplied by police officers.

It is my intention to publish all the publicly available documentation to expose Kay Dark’s failure to attend meetings in Northwood Ward and represent her constituents. Alan Poole has asked me not to do this as he thinks it will damage the Labour Party. I think it will damage the Labour Party far more if the cover up continues.

I think the people of Northwood should be given the opportunity to evaluate their representative’s records. I know that my record and that of Liz Green will stand up to scrutiny. You know that Kay Dark’s record will not stand up. That is why there is so much secrecy and shenanigans.

I note that Alan Poole denied the opportunity to Labour Party members at the Northwood selection meeting for councillor’s attendance records to be made available to those voting. In doing so he demonstrated a bias which favoured Kay Dark and allowed her to make a verbal claim which was untrue.

Disregarding the fact that I have provided written evidence for all my allegations, Alan demonstrates the partisan approach he has taken on these matters by stating:

“I believe Kay Dark has a very good case to request the Group take disciplinary action for bullying and harassment.” 

I note that no charges have been made against me, whereas I have logged formal complaints about your and Alan Poole’s conduct. The relevant Labour Group officer has refused to pursue these on your instructions. When I last met with Alan Poole to try and resolve this matter he warned me that he was playing hardball. He further said that

“You will never be able to prove there is a conspiracy.”

I leave it to readers to judge whether there is a conspiracy.

I received a telephone call from a Labour councillor warning me how seriously this potential threat was. They asked me whether my job was safe. (I work for a Labour MEP.) I said that I thought it was. They warned me that there was a plot for a complaint to be made against me. This would result in me being convicted as all the other ‘investigations’ had ignored the weight of independent evidence and had relied on Kay Dark’s denials. I would then be expelled from Labour Group.

There would then be a further complaint that my complaints had brought the Labour Party into disrepute. The desired outcome would be that I was expelled from the Labour Party. The councillor advised me that the intention was to place my job at risk and warn me off. The councillor advised me to be very careful, as those working against me and with you were prepared to be absolutely ruthless.

I regret that your refusal to meet, discuss or respond to correspondence have caused me to place this matter in the public arena. You have left me with no alternative.

I have raised all these points in correspondence or privately with you and those working with you. I have tried for 3 months to try and resolve these matters ‘behind closed doors.’ Every time my good faith has been taken advantage of and you have ruthlessly pursued your objective of removing me as a Northwood councillor.

I have not responded to the negative press briefings which have been placed by you or those working with you for 3 months. This has resulted in several press articles appearing in the newspapers and on the internet which are damaging to me and my reputation.

My view is that this has happened largely because of your desire to become Leader of Thanet Council which attracts an allowance £22,442 and Alan Poole’s desire to become Deputy Leader which attracts an allowance of £15,136.

As you know I was one of your strongest backers to become Leader. However, your performance has become increasingly disappointing. I advised you several months ago in a comradely fashion that I would be unable to support you as Leader of Labour Group at the next election in May. I did this when I discovered that you were refusing to support a Labour councillor who was being harassed by a Thanet Conservative councillor. Thanet Labour Councillor Richard Nicholson had to step in and do your job for you.

Therefore you were aware that you would not have my vote towards your goal of becoming Leader of Thanet Council with the support of Thanet Labour Group.

I know a number of other members of Labour Group hold similar views to me and have advised you of their concerns at how poor your performance as Leader has been. I note though that Kay Dark remains a supporter of your performance. I believe this explains the biased way in which you have exercised your power and your responsibilities.

I think the difference between us is as follows. I have never stood for any position attracting extra money and I only claim my basic councillor’s allowance. Dozens of press references, petitions and my record of activity and campaigning show that I am committed to representing Northwood. From my perspective you are not bothered about whether Northwood is represented.

You support Kay Dark whose record in Northwood is by any objective assessment appalling. For you it appears the key issue is that Kay Dark if elected will be able to vote for you and your associates within Labour Group to receive additional allowances.

You are prepared to accept her misleading the Northwood selection meeting, and further misleading the ’exoneration’ and ‘investigation’ meetings. You accept her working with Conservative councillors to undermine Labour councillors. You accept her smearing rival candidates. You accept her refusing to produce newsletters and campaign for the Labour Party. You have written a report approving Kay Dark’s candidacy which ignores the facts of her record in Northwood Ward. There are potentially 22,442 reasons for you to support Kay Dark over the best interests of the Labour Party in Northwood.

Voters have been turned off by people who put the pursuit of allowances and expenses first. Your actions are damaging Thanet Labour Party.

I ask that you, Alan Poole and your associates reconsider your actions, and put the best interests of the Labour Party and the residents of Northwood first.

I would ask readers concerned about Thanet Labour democracy or democracy in Thanet in general to write to Clive Hart he is at

cllr-Clive.Hart@thanet.gov.uk 

When writing you may want to ask:
1. Why he approved a Labour candidate who did not attend any public meetings with their constituents for 4 years.
2. Why he considers candidates making false statements at a selection meeting do not influence the outcome of those meetings.
3. Why he has held a series of secret meetings to cover these matters up.
You can write or copy correspondence to me at
Cllr-mark.nottingham@thanet.gov.uk

My thanks especially to my many Labour friends and supports in Thanet and beyond who have secretly rebelled and ignored Clive Hart’s instruction to ‘send me to Coventry’ and have helped me.

I have witnesses, documents and evidence for all that I have written.


Mark Nottingham