Arbour accused by Private Eye over community web sites
Private Eye has accused Tony Arbour of being a 'purveyor of porkies'
following his denials that
Richmond Council was engaged in a vendetta against a local community web
Cllr. Arbour, who is the Conservative leader of Richmond upon Thames as
well as being the Greater
London Assembly representative for the South West area, had dismissed the
coverage of the matter by saying at a council meeting it was "a scurrilous
piece, even by Private Eye's standards."
He reportedly stated that there was no truth whatsoever in the article and
that it was "a pack
The Eye responded by saying in its Rotten Boroughs page, "The
lies are flying thicker
than chicken feathers as Richmond's Tories get in a tangle."
Private Eye alleges that Richmond's part-time PR boss Alex Aiken is
engaged in a campaign to
undermine the network of local community web sites in the borough of
Communities is a non-commercial network of community web sites run by
had previously had a reasonable relationship with the Council but this
soured when the communications
function was contracted out as a partnership with Westminster City
Council's communication unit, also headed up by Mr Aiken.
According to volunteers with sites such at www.oncom.org.uk, press
officers became increasingly
rude and uncooperative. Aiken went as far as to contact the employers of
some of the volunteers in an attempt
to put pressure on them to stop contributing to the site. Cllr. Arbour in
article appeared to be denying that this had taken place, but Private Eye
has been shown a
letter from the Chief Executive of Richmond Borough, Gillian Norton, to
one of the volunteers
confirming that Aiken had indeed called their employer to ask if their
community web site work was
compatible with their job.
Aiken had previously come to public attention by becoming involved in an
altercation with a man
dressed as a chicken. During the 1997 election campaign he was involved in
a publicity stunt
which involved a 'Tory Chicken' following Tony Blair around the country.
The Daily Mirror
retaliated by sending their own chicken and a fox. A confrontation ensued
between the two
chickens at which point Aiken intervened by wrestling the Daily Mirror's
chicken to the ground.
The chicken was reportedly furious accusing Aiken of having 'mad eyes'. "He threw me against a
wall and took my head off," he said. Aiken denied using excessive violence
against the chicken
saying, "It was a Labour stooge chicken."
One suggested reason for the persecution of Online Communities was that it
had previously published
some photo-cartoons, including an animated image of various councillors
dressed as the
gay pop group Village People. It is thought that the intention is to close
the sites run by
volunteers in order to leave the way free for Council run sites under Mr
Aiken's and Cllr Arbour's control and guaranteed to be uncritical of the
official point of view - unlike many of the correspondence posted in the Vox
Pop section of the sites by well informed local people.
Online Communities' sites are successful in bringing controversial issues to
public attention and the ensuing public opinion has in some cases changed
Richmond Council's preferred course, proving an embarrassment to Cllr
Arbour. Examples include the removal of Metropolitan Open Land status from
areas in the Crane Valley, which Richmond had intended to develop for
lucrative housing. Hundreds of people who value the area put up such good
arguments - all published online - that the UDP inspector rejected
Richmond's proposals. There have also been other land issues where the
public voice - evident on the community web sites - has stopped Richmond
Council in its tracks. Teddington's North Lane car park was to be sold off
for development to the universal dismay of residents and businesses but
again the local voices online persuaded the planning inspector of the public
Cllr. Arbour did not respond to our request for comment on this matter.
February 17, 2005