What are we to make of the behaviour of the leader of Guildford Borough Council Stephen Mansbridge? Since the conviction of his close friend and business associate he has said nothing to distance himself from her
His loyalty during the investigation and the court case might seem admirable and he was her only supporter at her main appearance at the Old Bailey, but is that advisable for a person who also holds the responsibilities of a council leader.
And when did he know of her guilt? Her defence counsel said in court that on his, the defence counsel’s, advice Juneja agreed to plead guilty in January; didn’t she tell her close friend then? Anyway, the overwhelming case against her was apparent from her first court appearance in Guildford.
Did Cllr Mansbridge not understand or did his misplaced loyalty to her cloud his judgement to such a degree that he could not accept the truth?
His statement at the time when, following the police charges, he was forced to ask her to step down from her lead councillor role, seemed to indicate that he blamed others for her predicament. His question: “Why complain if you are not a victim?” displayed a bewildering lack of moral understanding and intelligence.
Ironically perhaps, Mansbridge himself is one of the main victims of Juneja’s dishonesty and perhaps has himself a real cause to complain – but to her. Ostensibly, he fell for her lies hook, line and sinker, believing that she really had special qualities that deserved to be used at a high level in the council.
Many, including some in her own party, were less convinced and surprised at her rapid promotion. In fact, it was her lack of skill and eloquence that caused the suspicion which led to her being uncovered after 14 years of lying.
In the wake of the case we are left with a council that, while admitting the obvious reputational damage, can’t seem to admit to the inadequacy of the investigation it oversaw nor the consequences for its leader.
Councillors from all parties feel aggrieved, understandably, that the whole council has been tainted by the dishonesty of one person and council officers, some of them at least, feel betrayed. They have discovered that in Juneja they were being led and directed by a liar and a cheat. Some humility is due.
As for Juneja, the judge said that her role in public life was over, something she does not seem to have accepted. Not only did she organise a political petition while waiting for her sentence, she appears on national television to claim, risibly, that her accusers are worse than her; they dared to be motivated by the fact that they were against her house building proposals, she only lied and deceived.
Her additional accusation of racism, while offensive, appears groundless. Does she really imagine that had she been white and called ‘Jane Smith’ that those opposed to her proposals would have acted any differently once they suspected her credentials?
But what now? Cllr Mansbridge continues to lead the Tory Group and the council despite increasing mutterings from some of its members. Surely they cannot all be happy with the way things are, even if there are no obvious and capable candidates to take over.
And what are most of the opposition councillors or any troubled Conservatives doing about the situation? Shouldn’t they be asking the awkward questions rather than leaving it to the local and national media?
Perhaps they could start by asking what is Stephen Mansbridge’s connection to and the position on Monika Juneja’s petition? Does he know how it was funded? And why is he remaining in business with a convicted forger and deceiver?
Guildford Borough Council has now become a regular feature in Private Eye’s “Rotten Boroughs” column. In their latest article they write: “He [Mansbridge] hopes to become the town’s first elected mayor and Monika is right behind him.”