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Comment: Parties Start Their Stalk For Partners to Help Them Battle in The Political Jungle

Published on: 8 May, 2019
Updated on: 8 May, 2019

By Martin Giles

As the dust begins to settle after the most tumultuous week, perhaps ever, in Guildford’s local politics the question must be what next?

The electorate has had their groundbreaking say but what can those elected do now?

Under the council’s constitution, they have 21 days from last Thursday (May 2) to form a new council. In that time they will have to make decisions about who to support as council leader and what model of council governance to adopt.

The modified “leader and cabinet” model in operation at GBC has not been universally popular. Some say this provides the ability to get things done efficiently. That might be true but if the “things done” are not popular it becomes a problem. Concentration of power always brings other problems, not least that of patronage. If the leadership doesn’t like you, perhaps for speaking out, your political future can be bleak.

More importantly, it makes the role of the backbenchers less influential and less important.

Many Lib Dems and GGG (Guildford Greenbelt Group) members have long wanted to return to a committee system because of what some have described as dictatorial behaviour by leaders. R4GV (Residents for Guildford & Villages) also contain members who have spoken out in similar terms so, unless there is a sudden conversion now they have the power, there will probably be a reversion to a committee form of governance.

Under this model, a council elects a leader to represent the authority and wield executive power. Power is exercised by committees, made up of councillors in proportion to each party’s representation on the council. Where a committee can’t agree, the decision may be referred to a meeting of the full council.

Whichever governance model is decided on, as no party has overall control, the parties are likely to attempt coalitions or make agreements so a majority grouping can be created, able to get shared policies adopted.

Lib Dem leader Caroline Reeves

This will not be easy or straightforward. One theory put forward has been that the Lib Dems and Conservatives could form a coalition. Caroline Reeves, the Lib Dem leader, has been resolute in her support of the Tory Local Plan and together they have 26 of the 48 seats. But one of the Conservatives would be the mayor, so it would be the slimmest of majorities.

Even so, Tories might like the idea as a way of clinging to power and sharing it only with another established party. Former leader Paul Spooner has in the past been scornful of the Independent groups, refusing them access to power by limiting their membership to important committees as much as he could while frequently stressing cross-party work with the “main” parties.

Conservative leader Paul Spooner

But this idea must surely be a non-starter. The damage caused by the Tory-Lib Dem coalition in Westminster is still a recent lesson and similar damage to the party’s reputation could befall them in Guildford, especially as many Lib Dem voters will have voted because of their views on Brexit. Not only that, many in the Lib Dem group have always been opposed to the Conservative-led Local Plan.

The most likely coalition or partnership would seem to be between the R4GV party and GGG. They worked almost hand in hand during the election to ensure they were not taking votes from each other and they share many aims. By combining, they will have, together, 19 seats. If they form a political group at the council, that would be the largest.

Labour group leader Angela Gunning.

To balance that, the Lib Dems might be tempted into an agreement with Labour, although while Caroline Reeves and Angela Gunning get on well and both supported the Local Plan, relations between their local party members, often competing for the same non-Tory votes during elections, can be more fractious. But if they did form a single group they too would number 19.

To some, the most obvious coalition would be between the Lib Dems and R4GV, with or without GGG. This would give 32 seats or 36 seats respectively, more than enough to get through anything they agreed on. But all three parties have made a point of saying there will be no whipping of members. While that might make the relationships trickier it might not be a deal-breaker.

GGG leader Susan Parker

GGG will want to ensure that on Local Plan issues their fight against green belt development is continued. In any case, if Residents for Guildford and Villages ever forgot this they would quickly face trouble with their own supporters in the “Villages”, a deliberate part of their name.

But we must not forget the single Green party councillor. The politics of climate change and environmental protection are likely to be of increasing importance in the next four years so could Cllr Diana Jones be persuaded to join a coalition? She would give important political credibility on green politics as well as an extra vote.

R4GV leader Joss Bigmore

Another element in the negotiations will be who will be the party leaders and the council leader? It seems almost certain that Angela Gunning will remain leader of the two-councillor Labour Group and Joss Bigmore, leader of R4GV. But will the Lib Dems stick with Caroline Reeves?

She is undoubtedly an excellent, and universally respected constituency councillor, in a ward that presents a fair share of casework. She had the best attendance record of all councillors in the past four years but she seemed seriously out of step with half the members of her Lib Dem group over the Local Plan, causing, eventually, the defection of one to R4GV via the Independent Alliance.

And she has been criticised from without and within her party for being too close to the former leader, Tory Paul Spooner. Her defence, as given in an interview with The Dragon in February, was that she got more achieved through co-operation than confrontation. In any case, there is also the question, would R4GV, or more especially GGG, accept any kind of partnership or agreement with her in charge of the Lib Dems? Certainly for the GGG party and probably for R4GV it would appear to be a no, no.

Then there is the Conservative group. Will Mr Spooner remain its leader despite the worst-ever GBC election result. One candidate in Lovelace did not even get 100 votes in a two-horse race. Until the 2014 by-election, that had been reckoned the safest Tory seat in the borough. You might expect them to be looking for someone else but who is there?

Richard Billington is about to be mayor for a year, Andrew Gomm seems too quiet for a leading role, as has been to date, Jo Randall despite her fringe Executive role. Graham Eyre has just been elected. Nigel Manning and Gordon Jackson are possibilities or perhaps David Bilbe might fancy his chance, even though he was not a committed Conservative until he had failed to get elected as an Independent.

Then there is Marsha Moseley. Her fierce independence while chairing the Planning Committee showed leadership qualities, even winning compliments from her political opponents. Although sometimes too outspoken she is honest. Respect.

Chairman of Guildford Tories Bob Hughes.

In any case, there will presumably be questions over the role of local party chairman Bob Hughes in the calamitous Conservative collapse. But the unpopularity of the Tories was hardly of his making and the deeply unpopular Local Plan was not his doing.

Anyway, once they have all decided who will be their party leaders there is the appointment of the council leader. Normally this is the leader of the largest group who is elected, uncontested, at the first new council meeting. But at present we don’t definitely even know which is the largest group. And if there is no agreement between the groups none of them will have a majority necessary to succeed in a contested vote.

Then, once all that is sorted, there is the issue of the Local Plan. Can it be unpicked? Paul Spooner and his allies say, rather smugly, it can’t but if it can’t what will those who have voted in the Independents and perhaps the anti-Plan Lib Dems, such as David Goodwin, think? A question posed by Paul Spooner before the election.

In some ways, the Local Plan seems like Guildford’s Brexit, it just runs and runs. But while Brexit has the country split down the middle supporters of the Local Plan are as rare as stars on a cloudy night.

The situation now may be cloudy but political life in Guildford will not be dull.

 

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test 9 Responses to Comment: Parties Start Their Stalk For Partners to Help Them Battle in The Political Jungle

  1. Brenda Jones Reply

    May 8, 2019 at 11:33 am

    What next?

    The entire planet is in crisis, with an unprecedented threat to animal species and the overwhelming prospect of catastrophic climate change.

    GBC responded by introducing their new Local Plan, which addresses neither problem and, tragically, proposes more harm to both.

    It would seem the most sensible next move for any new leadership, locally and nationally, would be to place an immediate moratorium on all development in the green belt.

  2. Valerie Thompson Reply

    May 8, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    I hope that GGG, R4GV and the Green Party councillor will form a coalition, with Susan Parker as the leader. She is intelligent, rational and determined to do her best for the people who live in the borough.

    A return to committees, rather than the appointees recently seen on Mr Spooner’s Executive could make more reasoned decisions, and be less party-led.

    For the Conservatives to join up with the Lib-Dems will only reinforce the opinion the public has made over the last few years, that the Lib-Dems seem to be less democratic than their name would indicate, having followed the Conservatives rather too closely. Hopefully, their supporters in the wider electorate would make strong objections to this coalition.

    • Lisa Wright Reply

      May 9, 2019 at 11:36 am

      I think if the Lib Dems try to build a bridge with the Conservatives to grab power they may find a few of their Lib Dem councillors jumping ship for GGG or R4GV.

  3. Brian V Miller Reply

    May 8, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Well stated. I wonder what the late Bernard Parke would make of it all?

    Perhaps, with his help, we’ll get some divine intervention. Let us pray there won’t be a Lib Dem/Tory coalition.

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 8, 2019 at 6:36 pm

    However it turns out, residents will not stand for the selection of a leader who voted for the Local Plan. There would be riots in the streets.

    No, the next leader will need to commit to doing everything humanly possible to scrap this odious plan.

  5. Sue Reeve Reply

    May 9, 2019 at 7:50 am

    Brenda Jones suggests a moratorium on development in the green belt as the first action of the new GBC. I couldn’t agree more and want our precious countryside protected.

    However, all the sites proposed in the adopted Local Plan are no longer green belt sites. Our villages were removed from the green belt too. So what do we do? Already we are facing a planning application for 110 houses, even more than the 100 proposed by the Local Plan, on a site that until a week ago was a field backing onto ancient woodland in the green belt and a zone three flood plain. And of course windfall applications, no longer restricted by former green belt status, will also start pouring in, we have one of those too.

    Let’s hope that a judicial review takes place and the process is found to be unsound, and it should be, that unholy rush to get the plan through before election day was unseemly at the least. Hopefully, then something can be done to examine what is right and what is wrong with the plan and address the high numbers and location of proposed development.

  6. Brenda Jones Reply

    May 10, 2019 at 8:39 am

    Sue Reeve makes a good point. It would not be a surprise to find the act of buying and selling our green belt akin to insider trading on the stock exchange.

    • Ben Paton Reply

      May 10, 2019 at 1:21 pm

      Spot on.

      And since the Nolan Principles are a dead letter in Guildford it is all “deniable activity”.

  7. Annie Colman Reply

    May 10, 2019 at 8:46 am

    I am so pleased to see Di Jones elected for the Green Party. She is an amazing lady and great for us to have this voice around the table.

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