TWO years ago this column exposed a culture of bullying and secrecy at Bembridge Parish Council.

On the receiving end were a small group of councillors who’d had the nerve to get themselves elected on a platform of transparency and retaining an important village asset, home to the much-loved Captain Stan’s fish shop.

They would have succeeded, had not several other councillors, elected on precisely the same Open Bembridge manifesto, abandoned their promises once in office.

The controversy kept the CP’s letters pages going for weeks. Behind the scenes, one councillor, later to become BPC chairman, was demonstrating his approach to transparency and free speech by lobbying politically for me to finance a printed retraction, and an “unequivocal apology”, as a penance. Nothing doing there, old pal.

Very little has improved since then. Huge legal costs depleted the council’s coffers by its incompetent handling of the sale of 5-7 High Street.

The annual number of full council meetings has been cut to six; public speaking time at them halved; important decisions delegated to committees which meet frequently, but largely in private session; staffing increased, but opening hours of the parish office cut.

A year ago the council made itself a laughing stock by returning a tin of biscuits sent as a Christmas peace offering by an octogenarian former councillor who’d tried to encourage civilised behaviour. You couldn’t make it up.

Now, though, there is at last some positive news. The IW Council’s legal department, charged with overseeing town and parish councils’ adherence to their code of conduct, has found that Cllr Richard Weaver used a highly offensive word at a council meeting to describe Open Bembridge Cllr Alasdair Steane — himself subject to a welter of code complaints, not one of which has stood up to legal scrutiny.

Cllr Weaver claimed he had called the other man a “cult”, a reference to his OB membership. It was not the word the investigation found him to have used.

An IWC appeals committee will now review the case and can recommend to BPC what, if anything, it should do about Cllr Weaver’s code breaches for failing to treat others with respect and bringing his office or the parish council into disrepute.

The majority group, given their relaxed attitude to his outburst at the time — chairman Keith Fagan ignoring it and another leading member endorsing it — might well do very little. But in any case its powers are limited by law, and don’t extend to sacking him.

The prerogative of political hire and fire lies with the electorate, whose next opportunity is on May 6, 2021, 16 long months from now. Polling stations open at 7am, which will not be a moment too soon.

But there is a little more good news in the meantime. The new owner of 5-7 High Street has reached out to parishioners in a New Year message. He is going to spend money on its upkeep — something disgracefully lacking in BPC’s last years of ownership — and Captain Stan’s tenancy now looks secure.

The long-suffering Bembridge public could perhaps now at last look forward to less in the way of gutter politics — if only a few people would have a word with themselves.

Don't forget to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.