Stormtrooper in a Teacup at Devizes Town Council

A Saturday afternoon, I’m trying to watch the new Boba Fett Star Wars series here, and what’s more important, I ask you; me being fair and impartial about a Handforth-Parish-Council-Zoom-meeting style squabble between Devizes Town Councillors, or the fate of the Tusken Raiders now the Hutt’s legacy has concluded on Tatooine?!

It’s rhetorical, full gone conclusion, yet being without endorsement I was quoted in local rag The Gazelle & Herod, I feel about as moderately involved as Salacious was in Return of the Jedi (he’s the giggling jester gremlin who lives in the folds of Jabba’s flab.)

To quote Obi-Wan, “I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened!” No shit, Jedi; Devizes Town Council are trying to stop councillors posting so much as an amusing meme on social media, or least that’s the talk on social media, initiated by a town councillor!

Between North Ward Conservative Iain Wallis stating his case within the confines of his own Facebook group, Devizes Issues, I’m also chatting with East Ward Conservative Johnathan Hunter, in a kinda east coast/north side stand off. I’ve told them both what they need is a nice, Labour speaker to settle the score, but neither rose to the bait; typical Tories!

To begin I took Iain’s opinion as red, supporting his gallant efforts to project the happenings within DTC, as other councillors don’t use social media with quite the same efficiency. But Johnathan, concerned the local rag went to town with a one-sided scoop, “a half-story without the full facts and presented them in a way which couldn’t be further from the truth,” claimed, “the last thing anyone wants are restrictions in free speech or any type of so-called gagging, which would be absolutely unacceptable as well as plainly ridiculous.”

Yeah, that’s what I was going with, ridiculous. Ridiculouso, because while they’re squabbling between themselves over usage of social media, one has to ponder if they’re dealing with the issues they’re supposed to be dealing with; my nan would say “I’ll bash yer bleedin’ ‘eads together,” cos she resolved conflicts that way, that’s why there were never conflicts in the family.

Jonathan continued, he “would never oppose the use of social media. No one wants draconian restrictions or censorship; however, no single person should control the narrative. Iain provides excellent updates and info on social media, but is selective with rules and posts. I’m not a Guardian but there are some good people who want good stuff for the town. I think with social media groups there should be a more open approach and less controlling if counter views don’t suit a particular narrative.”

So, according to Johnathan, no one objected to a deadlock on social media usage, rather suggested it was controlled with equality for all councillors, and this has been blown out of proportion. “Totally blown!” he responded.

Devizes Town Council proudly announces on its website: In March 2020 the Council was re-accredited with a Quality Gold Award – which it has held since 2015 – demonstrating it delivers its services in a way which is at the forefront of best practice by achieving an excellent standard in community governance, community leadership and performance management.

Ah, that’s nice, but what of it, if the public doesn’t know what services it actually delivers? Where can you find out what’s happening at DTC?

There’s a website, with PDFs of minutes. Can I get the minutes of the meeting involving this outcry? “The 2017 policy is on the council website,” Johnathan tells me, “But as the proposals haven’t been approved, they are not in the public domain.” It’s a far slower process than despatching a Tweet, and besides, you’ve got to go find it, rather than it splash in your face via your phone.

I told Iain, “Folk don’t come (to meetings) as I suspect they believe they’ll succumb to hours of ‘article 234 on the agenda, Reg Smith wants to erect a weathercock on his shed…. type stuff. Ergo, we need a summary, which is exactly what you do, and most would be in favour of that, logically.”

“There is definitely a place for an officially DTC line and it should be on their Facebook page,” Iain replied. “DTC social media presence has improved significantly since the new community engagement manager took up her post.” Though compare Devizes Town Council’s Facebook page’s 1,073 likes, and 123 followers on Twitter, with Devizes Issues’ 14K members, understandable Mr Wallis’ posts there have tenfold the clout of DTC posting on its own page.

What they need is to take a leaf from Iain’s book, create a flourishing “group” rather than a “page” as it’s more open to discussion, and anyone can contribute. Then, and only then, can DTC say please keep social media posts about council matters on the DTC group. Jonathan agrees, “it needs to be improved.”

Hopeful if done it would put an end to the pettiness? Yeah, right. Iain gives me a ‘however’; “I think there is also the case for individual councillors to speak. We are not one council and we are not all bound to think and speak in the same way. We are bound by democratically made decisions but we don’t have to like them. We should be able to engage with the public and give our own views separately to the council’s official position.”

Totally agree with Iain on this one, though on their own platform rather than one they have created for “general purpose.” As the dispute of the impartiality of Devizes Issues is never-ending, it is up to the individual to note he controls that particular powerful Facebook page, and what is published are not agreements made by the entire council; akin to national media, who knows what to believe anymore?

Jonathan’s key concern is that, “an article has been written in the G&H and also posted by Iain, grossly exaggerating potential proposals and is therefore misinforming the public by using headlines like gagging order. The draft policy hasn’t even been debated and agreed in the relevant committee in Council.”

In a heartfelt counter-article placed on other local Facebook groups, which Johnathan says he’s “not allowed to share elsewhere,” he calls there’s “never been any intention to restrict debate, free speech or social media interaction – it’s crucial to have an ongoing conversation within the community and for the community.”

“What a sound social media policy would look like is one when no single individual controls the narrative, and/or censors free speech claiming that it doesn’t fit into the rules as it doesn’t suit a particular narrative. Many organisations are reviewing their social guidelines to also move forward with the times, especially in a world of misinformation.”

Newly elected in May last year, what we know of him is his hard-working community projects particularly during lockdown, in planning and committee responsibilities, his focus on building better provision for young people, and involvement in Greening Projects. “However,” he states, “I am not involved in any schemes to restrict free speech, censorship or that crass term ‘gagging order.’”

What we have here is a storm in a teacup, intended to belittle parts of the council by other sides. In my honest opinion, the argument is crass and misinforming, but not reflective of the good and hard work councillors are really doing behind the scenes.

Though those behind-the-scenes points need to be publicised impartially better than it is, and folk need to be made aware what they’re reading is the view of one councillor only when taking information from the Devizes Issues. We’ve covered the bias there in the past, my conclusion is, intentional or unintentional there is, despite denial from admin. It came to apex when I myself was banned for proposing it was wrong for the taxpayer to fork out the millions for the PCC re-election, and I stand by that notion as proof of censorship.

Same here I confess, if you were to suggest Supreme Chancellor Palpatine was right to manipulate the battle of Geonosis to escalate the Clone Wars, I’d have you banned, outright!

But in the Star Wars universe one councillor would saunter into The Mos Eisley cantina, and with one bout of laser gun battle would solve the problem, and that’s not usually the way it works in Devizes. “Devizes town council meetings actually sound that bit more exciting than I projected here,” I added to Iain’s musings on the episode, “do we bring our own weapons or are they provided?” It got two laughing emojis, which was all I was after, really, I don’t expect this to be solved anytime soon.

Might as well go for all three trilogies in one, and send yourself to a galaxy far far away than wait for a conclusion to this!


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