Cllr. Clare Coghill responds to a polite inquiry about Universal Credit: first there is prevarication, then she complains about ‘sexually aggressive’ abuse

I try not to post about issues where I am directly involved, but sometimes it’s unavoidable, and what follows is a case in point.

During September 2018, I signed a joint letter to LBWF Leader Clare Coghill inquiring about what steps the council was taking to mitigate the disastrous introduction of Universal Credit.

The tenor of the letter was thoughtful, evidenced, non-partisan, and of course about a pressing current issue, and the other signatories included some political figures, but of greater personal consequence, colleagues from the community and voluntary sector who were working directly to address poverty.

The letter was dispatched in early October, but despite some chasing, week followed week and there was no substantive reply.

Then, out of the blue, on 4 March 2019 – that is, five whole months later – Cllr. Coghill e-mailed the co-ordinator of the letter as follows:

‘Dear [XX],

I have personally been verbally abused in public in the most appalling terms, using sexually aggressive language, by one of the signatories of this letter. I will not be responding while they remain a signatory.



It is notable that she did not mark this e-mail as either ‘private’ or ‘confidential’.

Cllr. Coghill’s allegation caused consternation amongst the signatories, particularly since it was quickly established that none knew what she was talking about. Accordingly, a reply was dispatched politely asking for elucidation, but since this, too, was ignored, on 1 May 2019, I wrote to Cllr. Coghill off my own bat, briefly recapitulating the story to date, and adding what I hoped was a conciliatory addendum:

‘Public (or private) abuse using sexually aggressive language is completely unacceptable, and I do not wish to be associated with anyone who feels otherwise.

But I also feel that leaving this matter hanging, as you have, is very unhelpful, and prevents us all from addressing some very pressing problems.

Consequently, I am writing to ask who abused you, and on what occasion, so that the rest of us can remove that person’s name from the letter, and you can then answer the points we have raised.

Finally, I note that, since the abuse was stark and (more importantly) public, my request raises no issue of confidentiality’.

I followed this up with reminders on 17, 24, and 31 May, the latter by recorded delivery, but as of today’s date, Cllr. Coghill has not answered, indeed not even deigned to acknowledge my correspondence.

This unhappy episode provokes three observations.

First, and regardless of anything else, it is unarguable that for five months Cllr. Coghill failed to respond substantively to a letter that was sent to her about Universal Credit, something that eloquently speaks for itself.

Second, and at the heart of the matter, there is a fundamental divergence about facts. Cllr. Coghill believes that she has been inexcusably and publicly abused. The signatories, for their part, all deny doing any such thing.

It is possible that one or other of the parties involved, without malice, may have misremembered events or misidentified people. It is also possible that there are differences of opinion as to what constitutes ‘sexually aggressive language’, though in truth that seems rather unlikely.

What remains incontestable, however, is that Cllr. Coghill always has possessed the power to settle the matter once and for all, and why she still refuses to do so remains a mystery.

Third, while Cllr. Coghill evidently places great weight on her sense of grievance, she seems oblivious to the fact that her own actions, too, have caused injury.

Take the signatories of the letter. If Cllr. Coghill is to be believed, one amongst their number has some explaining to do. But because she refuses to name the guilty party, all the rest, though wholly innocent, now find themselves in limbo land, unable to escape suspicion. That some of the latter work closely with those who Cllr. Coghill has considerable direct influence over – LBWF’s many employees – makes this situation all the more unpalatable.

Sadly, those at the sharp end of the Universal Credit fiasco also have lost out. No doubt, both LBWF and the relevant community and voluntary sector organisations separately will continue to do what they can to mitigate the suffering that is being wrought. But if Cllr. Coghill had kept a cooler head, the two sides would be working together in a unified and efficient alliance, and as a result making significantly greater headway.

All told, Cllr. Coghill emerges from this episode with little credit. It is legitimate, of course, to actively stand against those who use ‘sexually aggressive language’ as a form of abuse. But Cllr. Coghill’s apparent assumption in this case that she is occupying the moral high-ground is undermined by her two pointed periods of silence, and her general unwillingness to look for a constructive way forward.

More broadly, there’s been a feeling for sometime that LBWF is not really much interested in the poor (see the links below), and regrettably what’s recounted here is yet further substantiation.

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