Fringe Box



Ash Residents Angry After Tory Parish Council Co-Opts Political Ally

Published on: 16 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 18 Sep, 2020

The online Ash Parish Council co-option meeting. The successful candidate Bill Cole is bottom right.

By David Reading

Trouble is bubbling in Ash as the Conservative-controlled parish council co-opted a fellow party supporter to their ranks, rejecting an independent candidate. Critics described the co-option of Bill Cole in the online meeting on Monday evening (September 14) as a “fait accompli” and a “stitch-up”.

Bill Cole

Mr Cole had already served on the council but stood down in 2019. The rejected candidate is Carla Morson, founder of the Ash Vale Coronavirus Support Group, set up to help people hit hard by the pandemic.

Public dismay turned to anger at the end of the meeting after Ms Morson congratulated Cllr Cole. His answer referred to the face-masks Ms Morson was seen wearing during the pandemic, saying: “[My wife] looked at your mask and she doesn’t like the look of it. So I’ll give you one, a proper one, one of our own.”

From the screen audience came cries of “Disgusting behaviour”, “Utterly appalling” and “Roll on the election”. But the overall nature of Cllr Cole’s appointment drew more criticism.

The Rowan Field ward vacancy was caused by the resignation of Cllr Paul Spooner, also Independent Conservative borough councillor for Ash South & Tongham. He said then he felt the parish council was not providing “fair value” to residents who paid an ever-increasing parish precept every year.

Had 10 residents formally asked, an election would have been called but many said they had been unaware of the vacancy, claiming “inadequate advertising”. So the council was permitted to co-opt Cllr Spooner’s replacement.

Carla Morson tells the meeting why she should be co-opted as a parish councillor.

Ms Morson put herself forward as a candidate, believing the council needed fresh ideas. Although a Lib Dem supporter, she pledged to sit on the council as an independent.

In July, she told The Dragon: “Ash has a parish council that is working to their own agenda, not those of us who live within the parish, and this cannot be considered right.

“Parish councils are definitely not the place for party politics and the in-fighting is doing nothing but harm for our community. It’s taking councillors away from what they should be doing.”

Although it is widely felt parish councils should be non-political, in Ash the strong Conservative chairmanship of Nigel Manning, also a borough councillor for Ash Vale, is felt to dominate operation of their council.

Ms Morson is philosophical about her defeat. “I went into the meeting knowing that, as they had found a Conservative candidate, the choice had already been made and it was a foregone conclusion. Regardless, I tried and I’m glad I did.”

Of the 10-member council, only Cllr Ed Schofield voted for Ms Morson.

Another supporter in the audience, James Morgan-Yates, said he felt Ms Morson was an ideal candidate because of her extensive community work. He added: “The whole way this was run indicated it was a done deal before the meeting. I don’t believe Carla had a chance. She was by far the better candidate.”

His suspicions were given substance by Cllr Spooner, who was at the meeting. He said: “I was not surprised at the result. I understand the parish councillors had met a week before to discuss the merits of both candidates from a political perspective.

The Vicar for Ash Vale, Rev’d Neil Lambert, although muted, could be seen gesticulating at the screen in reaction to Mr Cole’s comment.

“I was very disappointed by the comments made by Bill Cole after being congratulated by Carla Morson. I trust Cllr Cole will apologise after reflecting on the bad taste in his response. Both Bill and Carla are community-minded people who deserve recognition and support for what they have contributed locally and continue to do for Ash.”

Social media was awash with comments, largely in support of Ms Morson. One person was appalled by “the manner in which we feel Carla was so badly treated by Ash Parish Council”.

Another entry read: “I was shocked the chair didn’t intervene regarding the comment. Very inappropriate and unbecoming of a person who is just about to take up public office.”

In August, Cllr Spooner’s comments in The Dragon about Ash parish council were revealing. He said: “Whenever I raised concerns, the response from the chairman or his consort [Cllr Marsha Moseley, also a Conservative borough councillor for Ash Vale] was negative and I was accused of not providing ‘detail on alternative budget’ or being ‘unhelpful’.

“I believed by leaving the parish council I was better able to support my residents at a borough level by asking pertinent questions from the public area rather than the very controlled environment that exists within the parish council.”

He added: “There has been a breakdown in a number of relationships with Cllr Manning and Cllr Moseley, not just my own.”

Early this month, borough Cllr Graham Eyre (Con, Ash South and Tongham), also resigned from the parish council. Now residents seem determined there will be an election. All that takes are 10 formal requests from residents.

Cllr Eyre said: “I am not going to detail all the reasons for my resignation. As for the rift between Paul Spooner and the leadership of Ash Parish Council, that did have some bearing on my decision, although that was in no way the major reason.”

He is part of the breakaway Conservative Independent Group on Guildford Borough Council, as is Cllr Spooner.

Cllrs Nigel Manning and Bill Cole declined our invitation to comment.

Later a press release from Ash Parish Council said: “Bill’s volunteering work in the community, both in Ash and previously in Mytchett, over the last 30 years or so, including him and his wife Jenny, making over 2,000 face masks during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis for local people, show his continued commitment to help the local community. Bill’s qualifications and work skills, together with his previous experience as a parish councillor, make him an invaluable asset to Ash Parish Council.

A recording of the meeting can be viewed here:

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Responses to Ash Residents Angry After Tory Parish Council Co-Opts Political Ally

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    September 17, 2020 at 8:04 am

    This Tory infighting and parish council monopoly is most unedifying. Why don’t the residents of Ash run a referendum or petition to oust this shamefully undemocratic parish council, and run a proper election for its parish councillors? Choosing themselves just stinks.

  2. Tracy Beighton Reply

    September 17, 2020 at 9:11 pm

    I have to say I was deeply shocked by the behaviour and inappropriate comment. We expect better.

  3. Peter Corns Reply

    September 17, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    This meeting showed in full glory the self-satisfied smugness of the sitting council.

    Perhaps, in the past, there has been an air of apathy leading to a lack of challenge for a seat at this particular table. But I believe that will now change, and at least that is one thing for which this council can claim responsibility.

    Roll on election day.

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