It is appalling that Thanet councillor Ted Watt-Ruffell’s has been found guilty of animal cruelty resulting in the death of a defenceless kitten sucked dry by 150 fleas. For new readers a little history. Ted was a Labour councillor. However, there were a number of problems with his conduct and Thanet Labour Party were unprepared to have him representing them. No longer welcome in the Labour Party Ted turned to Thanet Conservatives where he was warmly welcomed. Informally, Labour members advised Conservatives of their concerns, but Thanet Conservatives dismissed them.
Ted was selected as a Conservative councillor for Dane Valley in Margate. As part of his election strategy he became a school governor. He was welcomed and earned a reputation for working hard. After his election though, his involvement with the school notably diminished, until his contribution was negligible. I have conflicting sources on what happened next. One side says the schools governors quietly asked Ted to leave, the other that Ted realised that in the context of his friend/fellow councillor/employer Stephen Broadhurst spectacularly bad attendance record, that it was time to go. Many local observers were concerned that the school had been cynically exploited as Ted strove onwards and upwards.
To his credit Ted was clear that Stephen Broadhurst’s position was untenable and told me that it was others in the Conservative Group who supported having a councillor living in Panama.
It was odd that Ted became both Mayor and Chief Whip. Mayor is a demanding position done well it is the equivalent of a full time job. With Ted working full time, and having a family, plus duties as a ward councillor it is odd that he sought out the position of Thanet Conservative Group Chief Whip. I am advised that he did not push for this position (it attracts no additional money), but rather that he was chosen.
To understand why Ted was overloaded with jobs you have to understand Thanet Conservative Group. It is dysfunctional. Misconduct is not just tolerated it is welcomed, seen as a “badge of honour.” Whilst a minority of Conservative councillors oppose this, the majority are at best prepared to turn a blind eye to bad behaviour, and many actually revel in it. There are circles of power, the leadership, an inner Cabinet, the rest of the Cabinet and other trusted lieutenants. One local Conservative advises me that the normal qualities of ability and integrity are of little importance. What matters above all is loyalty. Or as it was put to me what is prized above all is that like some gang, what matters most is whether you are staunch or not. Ted was staunch. Ted was elected Chief Whip.
Loyalty can work both ways. When there was an incident of drunkenness in December 2008 it was caught on camera. Whether Ted Watt-Ruffell was the person is not known. What is regrettable is that the business owner did not share the CCTV evidence with the police. This is compounded by the fact that when Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel became involved, he did not see drunken and abusive behaviour as a matter to be referred to the police, but one for private investigation only. This partial investigation leaves the whole matter unanswered. If Ted was the man, then Sandy Ezekiel acted loyally. If Ted was not the man Sandy Ezekiel failed the electorate by not involving the police.
Regular readers will know I try when I can to inject some humour into local politics. When at a hospital charity fundraising event I saw Ted wearing a Panama hat, the chance to comment on his fellow ward councillor being in Panama was too good an opportunity to miss. The post (click to link) used this photo. As you can see I carefully cropped it so the child could not be identified. Ted then made a complaint saying the child could be identified. Puzzled I discussed this with Ted. He said that it was not his idea to complain but that he had been asked to do so by one of his fellow Conservatives. Regular readers again will know that this blog has had a series of unfounded complaints by local Conservatives costing Thanet residents thousands of pounds. To Ted’s credit having discussed this with him he decided to take the matter no further. It gave me an interesting insight into the mindset of Thanet Conservatives and to have it confirmed that complaints are organised.
I have since been advised that the view is that it does not matter whether the complaint is well founded, what matters is to keep up a barrage to try and silence criticism. I did not know at the time but when I was discussing this with Ted the kitten we will come on to had died. Now Ted has pleaded guilty to the charge of neglecting the kitten, what should have happened? I should add here that I have no knowledge of whether Ted neglected his kitten, but I take his guilty plea in court at face value.
Ted has a private life but as Mayor of Margate he is Margate’s first citizen and the Queen’s representative. So any controversy about the Mayor makes for controversy about Margate. The Mayor is supposed to promote Margate, not bring it notoriety. My view is that what has motivated Ted throughout this is money. As Mayor of Margate he receives an allowance of £11,154 a year to spend on himself as he sees fit.
So when charged in October he should have either stood down or put out a statement protesting his innocence. Ted did neither, allowing speculation and starting the process of dragging Margate’s name down. When the charges became public on November 5th Mayoral events became two tier. If you were a local then Ted was allowed to continue. But if a senior figure came to visit Ted would become “unavailable.” Even when this featured in national media like Private Eye dragging down Margate, Ted did not seem to care. People were told he was "indisposed" but then he was seen at work, apparently fine.
His court appearance in Margate resulted in a postponement. I am advised that Ted’s claim that he could not receive a fair trial was accepted. He could though have put this forward several weeks previously. Instead he left it to the last minute. Instead of a prompt rearranged hearing this resulted in a delayed hearing. For Ted time was money. Every month he could claim as he did to many people that he was innocent, he received an extra £1,000/month. Now that he has pleaded guilty, it can be deduced that he knew from the start that he was guilty and that this would put his £1,000/month as Mayor of Margate in jeopardy. Even now having admitted his guilt he has not resigned after all every extra day as Mayor is worth an extra £33, so why rush to resign?
Let me declare an interest. Last November Ted became the latest member of Team Ezekiel to make an unfounded Standards complaint against me. He claimed this post prejudiced the chance of his receiving a fair trial. His complaint was false on 2 counts. First he knew he was guilty, so I could not prejudice his guilt as he has pleaded guilty himself. Second, he only made the application because it was free. My post was no different to what the local papers were reporting in its substance. However, to challenge the newspapers Ted would have to pay. To challenge me he could rely on Council Tax payers picking up the bill. So a few more thousand pounds could be wasted by a Thanet Conservative councillor.
Thanet’s Council's independent Standards Committee met and threw out Ted’s claim. In Ted world though, denial is everything. So Ted has now appealed this decision to the Standards Board of England. It is currently waiting to be heard. If Ted had pleaded innocent to the court charges he might have a point, but Ted knew he was guilty, and pleaded guilty. So Thanet Council has had to prepare a report to justify its Standards Committee decision. Thousands of pounds more of our money being poured down the drain. Now the cats out of the bag, and Ted has pleaded guilty, will he withdraw his appeal and save Council tax payers some money?
I won’t hold my breath! My prediction is that he will wiggle and wriggle to cling on for as long as possible, after all Ted’s getting £233/week as long as he is Mayor. Ted claims his health is affected, yet he has put up a tenacious and prolonged defence when he knew he was guilty from the start. He has had the staunch support of fellow councillors Simon Moores, Sandy Ezekiel and Roger Latchford. Roger Gale North Thanet MP who claims to have an interest in animal welfare, is silent when there is animal cruelty in his constituency. Ted has had £6,000 of "expenses" through this sorry affair, and no-one defends elected representatives rights to expenses more tenaciously than Roger.
Laura Sandys who has prospective South Thanet constituents in Cliftonville who are deeply angry at having a Mayor who allowed a defenceless kitten to be sucked dry by fleas until it died, stays silent, after all Ted is a loyal Conservative councillor.
Thanet Conservatives should ask Ted to resign as Mayor and councillor. If he refuses to do so they should take the Conservative Whip away from him.