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Cllr Michael Dickinson – Psephologist, Pseudologist, Sexpert & Political Mercenary

Have you met Michael?, if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, but you live in Swindon’s Freshbrook and Grange Park ward, your chances of finding Michael on your doorstep will greatly increase as we get nearer to the local elections on May the 5th and Michael becomes increasingly desperate for you to back his Conservative candidature with your vote.

Many residents won’t recognise Michael without first seeing a photograph of him because he’s not as regular a feature in the ward as you might expect your local councillor to be. Michael lives about 4 miles away, doesn’t drive himself and usually relies on his wife to chaffeur him to West Swindon in the family Mercedes.  Once Michaels striking resemblance to Homer Simpson is noted I can almost guarantee you’ll recognise him when you he wanders nervously down your street.

Perhaps you’re of the opinion that it doesn’t really matter where your local councillor lives as long as they do a good job of representing your ward, and normally I’d agree with you, but in Michael’s case I don’t think he’s doing a good job for anyone apart from himself and his political party.  Representing the residents for Freshbrook and Grange Park, and the town generally, seem to be a long way down Michaels list of priorities so, if you are tempted to lend your vote to Conservative Cllr Michael Dickinson, here’s a few things about him you might wish to reflect upon before putting your ‘X’ next to his name on the ballot paper and returning him to council for another lucrative, (for him), but ineffectual, (for you), term in office at your expense.

Firstly, Michael works as an accountant at a college on the other side of Swindon – so he’s supposedly good with numbers.  He’s also a very keen psephologist, which means he obsessively studies the statistical and sociological results of elections.  Over the past few years I’ve gradually formed the opinion that the direction of Michaels internal political compass is heavily influenced by the results of recent elections.   I believe that Michaels political ‘position’ is always dictated by what is most likely to get him elected and, of course, to keep him drawing a handsome allowance from the public purse.   The rigorous application and defence of political principles is an alien concept to someone like Michael who, I think, is most best described as being Politically Mercenary.

Psephologist & Political Mercenary

Michael hasn’t always been committed to the Conservative party as he likes to suggest and generally avoids discussing his political past because he doesn’t like people to realise he was first a Conservative, then became a Liberal Democrat before leaving them and re-joining the conservative party again.

Michael was first a member of the conservative party at some time prior to 1998.  At this point in time Swindon Conservatives, (having just 5 Council seats), were obviously not a healthy party in Swindon and with a recently elected Labour government sitting in Westminster Michael probably thought that the Swindon conservatives were unlikely to gain power in the Council in his near political future.  Having psephologised the numbers, he left the Conservative party and threw his political lot in with Swindons Liberal Democrats who, at that time, had 9 council seats and seemed likely to gain more. (remember that this was a happier time for the liberal democrats generally and the spectre of breaking their own pledges had not begun to seriously erode their credibility with the Swindon electorate).

Michael Stands For Election

The 1999 Swindon local election results showed Michael that his psephology had correctly oriented his political compass as the Lib Dems gained another seat, Labour lost one seat and the Conservatives remained static.  Michael knew he was now in the party most likely to get him elected and in 2000 he was duly elected as a Liberal Democrat Councillor in the West Swindon ward of Freshbrook & Grange Park.  I think it’s fair to say that Michael didn’t exactly impress folk with either his performance as a ward councillor or his longevity in his first stint as an elected member.

Sex on the ward

In March 2001 Freshbrook and Grange Park was represented by 3 Liberal Democrat Councillors, Geraldine Robertson, Judith Peppitt and Michael Dickinson.  All three said they were ‘shocked’ when the Swindon Advertiser reported that a brothel was operating in their ward.  I’ll come back to this later, but it was perhaps this ‘shocking’ piece of news which first ignited in Michael an enduring interest in Swindon’s sex industry and led to him becoming the butt of several long-running and ribald jokes which are still repeated in the civic offices today.

The Accountant Likes the Euro

In January 2002 Michael irritated many of Swindon’s Euro sceptics when he was described as ‘arguing passionately in favour of joining he Euro’.  He didn’t enjoy the criticism that his europhilia provoked and he appears to carefully hidden his Pro-Europe leanings ever since.   If Michael appears at your door in the next few days you may wish to enquire of him what his current position on Europe is.  Tip: Have a box of tissues to hand by your front door because Michael tends to sweat profusely when asked questions or made nervous.

Struck through section factually incorrect – awaiting edit

Michael Stands Down – 1st of May 2002

Versions vary as to why Michael stood down from council in May 2002, almost exactly two years before the end of his elected term.  One version of events is that Michael had a falling-out with the lib dem leadership and another is that he simply couldn’t take the pressure.  The ‘pressure’ scenario is unlikely in my opinion as he doesn’t appear to have put himself in any positions where he was under any pressure, which leaves another version sounding most plausible to me – Several Councillors, (who were serving at the time),  have told me that Michael had told them that he stood down because he felt he couldn’t represent the residents of Freshbrook & Grange Park properly while he was living in Swindon Road, Eastcott.  This might be the single and most electorally honest act of his political career thus far.

Drugs, Lies & Sex Again

Michael was no longer an elected member of the Council after the 2002 elections but he continued to be quite vocal in response to Conservative criticism of his lib dem colleagues and, on one noteworthy occasion in 2002, he publicly accused Conservative Cllr Justin Tomlinson of “spinning a web of fabrication” when Tomlinson, (now the North Swindon MP),  had apparently suggested that the Lib Dems wanted to legalise drugs and hard-core pornography.  This is quite funny in a typically and politically hypocritical way, because:

By 2004 Michael was pushing to allow street prostitution in Swindon

By 2005 Michael was pointedly refusing to answer questions as to whether he’d ever taken drugs

And by 2006 Michael was enthusiastic about Swindon sex shops being allowed to sell hard-core pornography.

B Dawson of Bramble Road Swindon suggested that Michael investigate using the grounds of the civic offices for prostitution, after which his internal ‘votometer’ seems to have alerted him to the notion that supporting street prostitution is a potential vote-loser except perhaps to other Councillors with a similar professional interest in the worlds oldest profession.

The Saint, The Sinners and The Lib Dem Pseudologists

Michael decided that he wanted to stand for council again and was selected by Swindon Lib Dems as their 2003 candidate for Central Ward.  This must have been quite convenient for Michael as it meant, if elected,  he could now walk out of his front door and into the ward he wished to represent in a matter of minutes.  No more being chauffeured to West Swindon.

But it wasn’t long before Michael’s preoccupation with the Swindon sex trade, mixed with the liberal democrats natural tendency towards publishing fiction as fact, began to foment a toxic cocktail which would boil up into an ugly scandal immediately after election day on May the 1st 2003, an election which saw Michael elected to council with just 16 votes between him and the 2nd place candidate, Labour’s David Cox.

Michaels inner-psephologist must have been bloated with elation at being elected and wetting himself with fear at the ultra-slim margin by which he had been elected.  He knew from day one that Central would never be a ‘safe ward’ for him, and I believe he began preparing an exit strategy from the ward and the Lib Dems at a very early stage of his new term of office.

The Sinners: During his 2003 election campaign Michael, supported by the Eastcott Lib Dem Stan Pajak, (Pajak acted as Michaels election agent/promoter), made much noise about dealing with the various ‘problems’ caused by street prostitution in Central ward   In one edition of the Liberal Democrat ‘Focus’ publication Michael & Stan used a picture of St Luke’s Parish Priest Father Leslie Pinfield under the headline “I’m backing Michael” but it was a claim which was later proven to be an outright lie by none other than Father Pinfield himself.

Michael seems to have been profoundly affected by dishonestly using a parish priest as part of his election campaign and on election night he opted to stay at home rather than attend the count and face his critics.  Local legend has it that someone had to run along to Michaels house and persuade him to come to the count to acknowledge his, (admittedly slim), victory over the labour candidate.  This is how Michael started his second, and similarly undistinguished term in office (as his first attempt in Freshbrook).

I’ve already blogged the Father Pinfield episode as part of a blog called Eastcott Ward – Swindon Lib Democrat Pajak Plays Pinnochio Politics which discusses other lies currently being pedalled by Swindon’s Lib Dems.

Oddly, and I’m really not sure how Michael managed this in such a short space of time, but in August 2003  the Swindon Advertiser reported that the “recently elected Michael Dickinson (Lib Dem, Central) was reimbursed £310.49″ in expenses.

December 2003 found Michael, now the liberal democrat spokesman for corporate governance, warning Swindon inhabitants that they faced ‘real misery’ if the Conservative council led by Mike Bawden couldn’t balance their budget with an extra £1.2 million being given by the then Labour government.  For his part, Mike Bawden (Old Town and Lawns) dismissed the new money as “not a vast amount” and the Swindon Advertiser reported that Council finance officers were recommending a 13.1 % rise in council tax.

Feelings continued to run hot about the 2004 budget and, by the time the annual budget setting meeting rolled around in February, Michael was facing something of a quandary – having psephologised the 2003 results of the Swindon local elections in which the Conservative gained 6 seats from Labour, Michael was already considering leaving the now electorally stationary lib dems and joining the upwardly mobile Conservatives but he had to decide which way he would vote on the 2004 budget.  The lib dems were expecting him to vote in support of a Labour/Lib Dem budget amendment which would result in a higher increase in council tax than the ruling conservatives wanted, or whether he should he vote with the conservatives, (and therefore against his own party),  in order to keep his future political colleagues sweet?   Several conservative councillors have told me that they expected Michael to vote with them on the night but, when the time approached for the vote to be taken, and Michael realised that his vote would tip the balance either way, he was suddenly ‘taken ill’ and had to be helped from the chamber.  Michaels ‘Italian Legs’ had returned in time to help him avoid taking any responsibility for, well, anything. Again.

The advertiser described the scene thus:

Friday, 13 February 2004

LABOUR and Liberal Democrats teamed up last night to defeat the Swindon Council Tory administration’s proposed budget.

Council taxpayers in Swindon now face a 7.3 per cent rise this Spring instead of the much-hyped 6.3 per cent planned by the Conservatives.

The drama and knife-edge outcome lived up to past tax-setting night epics in the council chamber.

The vote for the Tory budget was all square at 28-28. The tie-break was then decided by Mayor Derek Benfield’s casting vote. The Labour member for Covingham and Nythe supported the joint opposition.

Earlier, Coun Michael Dickinson (Lib-Dem, Central) was taken ill and had to be helped from the chamber.

The conservatives were furious with Michael and many of them consider that he ‘bottled it’ and had feigned illness to escape the chamber.  To this day some of them still hold him solely responsible for the 7.3% rise in council tax and it was perhaps this which spurred conservative councillor Mary Martin (Toothill and Westlea) to publish a leaflet which contained, according to the lib dems, ‘untrue statements’ about their policies – specifically regarding the Shaw community forest.  Mary Martin’s leaflet apparently claimed that the lib dems wanted to “bulldoze” the Shaw Community Forest to make way for a new football stadium after Michael was quoted on the lib dem website as saying that he was “enthusiastic about the initial plans” for the proposed stadium there.  The lib dem web page was later removed by the Lib Dems because, (they said), of the “confusion” it was causing.   Not much would surprise me with Michael, after all, he’s currently enthusiastic about building next to Coate Water Country Park but supposedly dead against just 175 houses being built on Hook Street near Lydiard Park.  But when Michael promises…

“If you elect me I promise to oppose development on Hook Street and adjacent to Lydiard Park”

…He doesn’t bother to tell residents that he’s already aware that Wiltshire County Council have scrapped their ‘urban buffer’ around West Swindon and that every inch of land on the West Side of Hook Street is likely to be developed, but there isn’t a damned thing he can, or will do about it.

But,  back in 2004 a lot of politically embarrassing things for Michael had been quietly swept under the civic carpet and he appears to have taken advice from older, wiser Conservatives who told him to keep his head down and not rock the boat.   It’s commonly believed that Michael was something of a double-agent during this period and was busily feeding information to the Conservative group.

The 2004 local elections arrived and Michael noted that his psephological compass was definitely pointing the right way for him when Labour lost another 3 seats to the Conservatives and the Lib Dems also lost one to them.  Psychologically speaking, Michael was now sitting next to an open aeroplane door, parachute on, ready to bail out.

On Thursday the 18th of November 2004 Michael spectacularly popped his head above the media parapet up to announce that he wanted the council to allow vice-girls to ply their trade in the town.  This immediately caused smouldering resentment of him to ignite into a blazing row within the Lib Dems, partly because of the standards board complaint made against Stand Pajak, (Michaels election agent), for dishonestly claiming Father Leslie Pinfield was backing Michaels anti-vice election campaign when actually he wasn’t.   Other lib dems felt that Michael had avoided taking any responsibility when the sticky stuff hit the rotating thing for Stan Pajak, and that Michaels rigorous defence of Stan consisted of saying “No Comment” to the press when approached for interview.

Just six days after Michael issued his proclamation about Swindon’s sex workers, the political atmosphere at Lib Dem HQ had become so toxic that he finally announced he was leaving the liberal democrats to become an independent councillor.  Michael said at the time:

“This is one momentous change for me after six years in the Liberal Democrats,”

Michael also said that he had no plans to leave the council, that he had not requested to join any other political group and had no plans to do so.

I firmly believe that Michaels exit from the lib dems was not as rushed or haphazard as it was meant to appear and had in fact been very carefully planned and executed.  Michael knew exactly what he was doing and, just 8 days later, he joined the conservative party for the second time and joined the largest, safest group of Swindon Borough Councillors – the Conservative group.

When quizzed by a reporter from the Swindon Advertiser Michael claimed that when he left the Lib Dems the week before he had not approached any other political party:

“I didn’t request to join the Conservative group until Monday,” he said.

But Michael must have forgotten that earlier in the same week he had already told the Advertiser:

“This is something that has been on the cards for a while now.

The conservatives subsequently offered Michael a political move to a ‘safe’ conservative ward – Freshbrook & Grange Park – (which you will no doubt remember is the same ward Michael abandoned in 2002 after serving only half his term of office).  For the remainder of his term as a Councillor for Central he effectively did nothing at all for the ward, preferring to spend his remaining time in office ingratiating himself with his new colleagues and not rocking any boats.

It was during Michaels 2007 election campaign that I started to observe him quite closely and I quickly concluded that he was shifty, politically mercenary and apt to deliberately deceive people as and when it suited him to do so.

When Rachael and I, (my wife), attended the 2007 count at the Oasis leisure centre, Michael and his wife admitted to us that they had deliberately deceived residents when speaking to them on their own doorsteps – leading them to believe that they would be moving into the ward if Michael was successfully elected.   Michael was elected but, for the next couple of years he remained firmly rooted in Eastcott until the the Swindon Lamplighters Network revealed in 2010 that Michael had finally upped sticks and moved from Eastcott.  At the time no one was quite sure where had he actually gone though.

It didn’t take long to track Michael down to his new house, (although he did make a feeble effort to disguise his whereabouts by having his councillor contact details on the SBC website appear to be a postal address only), but he couldn’t prevent the electorate of Freshbrook & Grange Park learning from his nomination papers that he had not moved into, or any closer, to the ward but had actually moved even further away to a Groundwell Road address on the very the edge of Walcot Ward.   Michaels new house is happily within easy walking distance of Michaels place of employment at the New College on Queens Drive, but is unhappily even farther away from West Swindon – suggesting that the problems he’d previously had in ‘representing’ the ward, which had led him to abandon Freshbrook on his first tour of duty, were probably worse now than the first time that he’d he failed to represent it.

There’s not much more to add about Michael, unless we want to get deeply into the daily minutiae of political facts about him, but one other significant point is that he was at some point appointed by Rod Bluh to the unpaid position of chairman of the Council’s Audit Committee.

This was significant for Swindon residents interested in the now-infamous Swindon WiFi scheme because Michael indicated that his financial scrutiny of the scheme would be rigorous and he certainly seemed intent on doing the right thing when, in early January 2010 he proposed that the WiFi deal, (the commercial arrangement made by Cll’rs Bluh and Edwards with Digital City (UK) Ltd), be referred to the internal audit committee.  Unfortunately that was about as far as it got.  An audit report was ordered and produced, but the remit of the investigation was deliberately narrowed to the point where it did not examine any aspects of the WiFi scheme which were remotely embarrassing to the conservative administration – which meant that almost nothing of importance was scrutinised or reported on properly.

To say that many of us were disappointed with Michaels performance would be a severe understatement, but we quickly learned why Michael had ‘gone flaccid’ on his earlier promises when the Swindon Advertiser revealed that Michael was now being paid a £4,211 ‘special responsibility allowance’ for his role as chairman of the audit committee.  It also emerged that Michael was the only councillor in 2010 to enjoy an increase in his allowances.  He was now firmly on the payroll and therefore very unlikely to rock the boat, in fact, he has since begun openly hampering efforts to get the audit committee scrutinise the WiFi scheme properly. (It could start by investigating why the £400,000 public loan to Digital City was never secured – despite multiple claims by senior officers and councillors that it had been secured).

I don’t intend to shred every aspect of Michael current election campaign in this blog because there is a lot to shred, I don’t have the time and I anticipate a healthy discussion of the political campaigns being fought in Freshbrook will happen naturally on the Talkswindon forum.  Michael has certainly made enough questionable election statements to promote a good discussion all by himself.

In summary then, it’s proper that I declare something of an interest in the Labour candidate Neil Heavens.

Neil lives just a few yards from my house and, because he does live in the ward, I’ve found it very easy to get to know him a little and get a sense of how he’ll represent the ward if he’s elected.  I can’t say that I agree with every aspect of Labour policy but I can honestly say that I think Neil will represent the residents of Freshbrook and Grange Park in a more honest and effective way than Michael Dickinson has ever managed.  To that end, and as a resident interested in who represents his family, street and community at council, I asked to second Neils nomination for election.  Of the candidate available to me, and unless he does something really silly in the meantime, I fully expect to vote for Neil.

I’m not going to tell others to vote for Neil though, I think residents are quite capable of making their own minds up about him and he’s more than capable of communicating his intentions and ideas to residents on their doorsteps.  What I would encourage residents to do is think very carefully before lending their votes to Michael Dickinson again.

Recently Michael said….

‘… I have helped deliver many improvements. Millbrook Primary School has been built and new play grounds have been opened. Freshbrook Community Centre has been re-opened and sport has been enhanced by the building of three new G3 Astroturf pitches at the Link Centre and a full-size G3 Astroturf pitch at Greendown School. On a larger scale, Lydiard Park restoration is complete and Shaw Forest is growing wonderfully. If you elect me I promise to oppose development on Hook Street and adjacent to Lydiard Park, campaign to bring more jobs to Swindon.’

….and I invite readers to consider whether Michael helped to ‘deliver’ any of them.  Him saying he did does not cut my cycnical mustard and I am very much reminded of a letter written in 2003 by Wendy Goodenough of Rushey Platt, who apparently had cause to regret voting for Michael within days of his election to Central:

I was horrified enough when I woke on Friday morning to discover that my decision to vote against my Labour councillor may have contributed to electing a Conservative council.

But only five days after voting for Michael Dickinson I discover that he had used the most despicable underhand tactics to put himself into a council seat.

I am not particularly religious, but I think to abuse the trust and office of a vicar is unforgivable behaviour.

I won’t be experimenting with my vote in the future. I don’t agree with the ethics and service-cutting tactics of the Tories and Mr Dickinson has proved that you can’t believe a word a Liberal Democrat says at least Labour were just incompetent.

Wendy Goodenough

Rushy Platt

Personally speaking, I think a man can leave the Liberal Democrat party but you can never take the Liberal Democrat out of the man.

Discussion topic now open here on the Talkswindon.org forum

Posted on
Friday, April 22nd, 2011
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