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1934 and all that....

on Sun, 02/15/2015 - 20:50

"Churchill was distressed at what he saw as sophistry and evasion. He was convinced he was upholding a basic principle a basic of principle of (Parliamentary) democracy, that the Government must act honestly in its evaluation of information, and draw the correct conclusions from those facts, however embarrasing or alarming they might be, rather than twist them to fit the policy."

(From the recently deceased great historian Martin Gilbert's biography*Churchill: A life* pg 528).

Churchill was reacting to a British Government fiddling the facts to suit a policy (on India) in June 1934 that was ushered through with a starightforward lie concerning pressure brought to bear on the Manchester Chamber of Commerce to retract an inflammatory piece of evidence to a parliamentary committee; the pressure on them being brought by the person who had been appointed to be the impartial reviewer of the evidence, ahead of producing the report. 

At the same time they were also fiddling the figures on the rearmament of Nazi Germany, another subject where Churchill tried to present facts that the Government found unpalatable, and suppressed and distorted, to prevent the publi, and even parliament, having the facts put clearly ebfore them upon which they could judge the effectiveness or desirability of their  policy of appeasement. 

Eventually that appeasement policy became clear, and then, when it was too late, discredited.  

One effect was that it contributed greatly to the outbreak of the 2nd World War, an outcome Churchill felt could have been avoided by a different policy of deterrence from a position of strength.

It's a long way from 1934 and the discredited governments of Macdonald, Baldwin and Chamberlain to Edinburgh Council and the various transport policies of recent years, prominent amongst them. but not by any means alone, the Tram project.

And not even our little website, still going into a fourth year, would directly compare the situation in Europe in the 30s with that in Edinburgh today. 

But were Churchill still alive, and reviewing the way Edinburgh Council conducts its business in 2015, he would find little changed from the way those palsied British Governments of the 1930s turned away from the open and robust policy of presenting facts honestly, and looking them squarely in the face, to one of twisting the facts, and the presentation of them, to fit their already decided policy.

Obviously a dangerous route to go down as honest and open appraisal of facts is always the best course in any system of government, if only because of the disasters apparent in History from Governments, Councils, and authorities who followed  the alternative view of managing facts, and their presentation in order to manage public opinion because they beleived they knew better.

1) Our Credibility Gap video on this site, was made because we believed that showing how all our Senior Council officers,  and the Council's scientific services department, could maintain something so obviously contrary to plain reality as they did in relation to the pollution monitoring described in that video, would show people that these *mistakes* were not being made by accident but on purpose--because to admit them might lead to further questioning of the policy.

Because to admit it would mean that had to show higher pollution levels.

It is obvious...yet they cannot admit it.

2) We made these emails public (obtained under an F.o.I request) because they showed the Council's then senior scientist in there own Scientific Services department telling all his senior colleagues that although the council had constantly over a very long period of time disparged and dismissed claims that the transport policies they were pursuing would lead to rising pollution in residential streets... IF the obvious conlcusion was admitted, and the council began presenting the facts of the matter as the residents maintained--they could already be showing an exceedance of air pollution, in streets that a few years ago were well below.

(Email six in this info doc lin ked to above goes to the heart of the problem that led two of our small groups' members to go to the UN's ACCC process in Geneva......... see *5)* below.  

It shows the Council finessing legal advice to see if they could delay the release of data --- if delaying for 11 months would be thought reasonable---that led to the approach to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, to stop Council's doing this kind of thing.. when the emails were written in June 2011 fiddling around with releasing data, delaying data, partial release, and all the rest, was just another tactic in the armoury.  The decision by the ACCC recently means this is no longer possible--that's why it is so significant.

3) We have highlighted their own report into the Tram (In 2003!!!) telling them the city would see over 60% of all homes experience HIGHER pollution because of the Tram project, in order to show that it is not *trams* that create increase in pollution, and it is not the vehicles themselves creating these increases....  it is the council's pursuit of a defective tram project that does not deliver any identifiable positive benefit beyond allowing councillors and executives to indulge in mutual backslapping.

4) We have presented in letters, emails and meetings to the Council Officers and Councillors for more than 6 years now that illnesses and deaths caused by air pollution (largely the same elements in the increasing air pollution created by the tram project's effects on efficient traffic movement all over the city) clear and simple proof in research published by Universities, Health committees and public bodies across the whole world stretching back decades, that these illness and deaths far outweigh in number and seriousness those from passive smoking and all traffic accidents..combined.

We have seen this clear proof dismissed by people such as the Council's Chief Scientifc Executive in advice to Councillors and then Councillors, apparently unable to read information for themselves and wholly reliant of the advice of their in-house experts, plead it is all *difficult science* and too unclear a basis to alter their declared pro-tram policy at a time when that was still possible.

And Finally 5) Two Edinburgh people from our group went to the United Nation's Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee worried about the way Edinburgh Council have managed their pet project through a process of *public engagement and consultation* in which the facts were essentially only the facts selected and presented by Edinburgh Council themselves, in whatever way they wished to present them, with whatever facts they wished to present, and without whatever facts they did not wish to present.

In effect, as a lawyer (not one of ours; we couldn't afford any, and our two person team presented their own case to what was a very high powered committee in Geneva) said having this kind of *process of public consultation* is meaningless if the consultation is essentially an empty tick box process that the Council see as being purely cosmetic, without any chance or hope of actually effecting change to their plans-- other than the kind of inconsequential cosmetic alterations they are prone to make in order to be able to point to actions resulting from their *Public engagement process*.

Amazingly given the inequality in resources, the case was won, despite the UK government engaging some very high powered legal minds, and has resulted in a binding ruling on the whole UK (even including Edinburgh Council).


This ruling states (in effect)  is that no consultation can be considered meaningful unless the public have all data available that is available to the council (or other body) , that this data is made available as soon as it practically can be, and this data has clear signposting to the facts and numbers that are matters of real importance to questions raised by the public (so the significant data nuggets cannot be hidden inside a mountain of misleading data).

During the time our group has tried very hard to engage in meaningful cinsultation with the council they have kept up a PR and media campaign, conducted at a cost of not just tensthousands of pounds, or hundreds of thousands of pounds, but millions of pounds, that has been always wholly in favour of the project.

(Lets face it...that's why reading this you're probably sceptical about the sort of things in those 4 or 5 points above: "If this has gone on, how come I don't know about it?" ---we'd say--- "Because the Council don't want you to know about it, because these are precisely the inconvenient truths that their own barrage of convenient untruths are designed to cover up!)

They have used every trick in the book used by dodgy accountants to avoid saying clearly what they think or answer clearly the questions they are asked (see 1,2,3 and 4 above for just some of the examples of far-from-plain dealing).

In respect of the financial confusion and basic project mismanagement of the project their phrase *On time and on Budget* has become almost a catchphrase for any obviously bungled project in Edinburgh.

But even now the fact THAT WERE TOLD that the project would result in rising air pollution over a period of more than 10 years (so we may assume we ain't really seen nothing yet) and would eventually see worse air pollution for that more than 60% of the total number of homes in the city, has never even been mentioned in any council discussion document *keynotes* or *Executive summary* released to the public, or figured in any way in any Press release or information put out to the media.

Churchill, were he still with us in 2015 would probably find the right words to describe it all:

"The Council must act honestly in its evaluation of information, and draw the correct conclusions from those facts, however embarrassing or alarming they might be, rather than twist them to fit the policy."

Hopefully Lord Hardie may go one better....and if he wants a fast track to relevant source documents we can help; as you can see we always refer very clearly back to the source data we use, highlight it's meaning as we see it, but provide it to be judged by anyone reading it for themselves--despite that ACCC decision our council still do not do that.