You've got to hand it to Ahmed Khan. Not many folk have the cojones to write a letter to the Gazette moaning about local election candidates using the letters page of the Gazette to offer their thanks to voters, and then himself use the letters page to offer those very same thanks.
But not only did he do this, he also took the opportunity to big himself up about his newsletters.
Talk about political opportunism.
It's an odd move which whilst mildly amusing to many will alienate some, particularly when some of his Alliance colleagues have used the 'letter in the Gazette' method of communication in the past. It's as if he's intentionally trying to bait his opponents into the open, daring them to publicly respond.
If you took his PR bullying seriously, you may interpret a suggestion that he thinks that every electoral candidate should have the cash resources that he so obviously enjoys. The implication is that if you can't afford to print thousands of thank you letters, you don't care.
Such a view is not unexpected, or inconsistent. Khan has already tried to claim the moral high ground from those who would receive reasonable recompense for their responsibilities as a councillor. His 2007 election material employed innuendo and untruth about the financial motivations of his electoral opponents for the Beacon and Bents ward.
Khan is no stranger to Gazette publicity. When the Pier's 'Dolly Plaque' was stolen, Khan offered a cash reward, "no questions asked", for its return. He may not have bought the plaque back, but I'm sure it didn't hurt his electoral chances. Add to this the legal bill for his failed legal challenge to last year's election result and it starts to look like Khan's road to election success was a very expensive business.
Since the Branleys have also publicly forgone councillors' expenses, there's a feeling that the leadership of the Alliance party has a rather paternalistic attitude that implies that only those rich enough to stand as councillor should do so.
The suggestion that democracy is the plaything of the well off is extremely disquieting.
However, I agree with Khan on the need to stay involved in local issues, whether you're standing for election or not. If you're interested in what happens in your town or local area you've got to stay connected. His "they suddenly reappear as if by magic" high horse surely applies to his Alliance colleagues as much as any other council hopeful.
Only last year, two unpaid volunteers from South Tyneside Friends of the Earth were putting the last nails into the coffin of the Fellgate business park plan at the Local Development Framework inquiry. Lined up against them for South Tyneside Council was a barrister and a host of council planning professionals. It was a very empty hall, with only two people turning up to offer encouragement for the FOE Fellgate challengers. George Waddle, Steve Harrison and Geraldine White were nowhere to be seen.
I'm sure that Alliance councillors provide a great service to their wards, and given such a rousing letter from Mr Khan, I really do hope that the Alliance will stop sleeping and missing things like the LDF, and see the bigger picture and start to really get involved.
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