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Comment: Will Lib Dems Rely on Tory Votes to Elect Council Leader?

Published on: 11 May, 2019
Updated on: 14 May, 2019

By Martin Giles

Political speculation and rumours abound in Guildford ahead of today’s Lib Dem meeting at which they are expected to confirm their approach to any power-sharing deals at the borough council.

The Lib Dem group is the biggest but they hold only 17 of the 48 council seats. Speculation from numerous sources is that they intend to rely on support from the surviving nine Conservative councillors to have Caroline Reeves elected at the first council meeting after the election, the “Selection Meeting”, as titled on the GBC website, at which the committee appointments are made in addition to the election of a leader.

Cllr Caroline Reeves

The convention, which Caroline Reeves herself ignored following the 2015 election when she stood against Stephen Mansbridge, is that the leader of the largest group is elected as council leader unopposed but the convention came about under two-party rule. With no group have more than 17 seats things are trickier.

If the Lib Dems do elect Caroline Reeves as leader despite opposition from R4GV and GGG, who together have 19 seats (will they form a group?), then they could be in the invidious position of relying on the Conservatives to win council votes. How will that look to Lib Dem supporters, many of whom dislike Conservative policies more than R4GV do? And R4GV and GGG supporters are likely to see this as the establishment parties closing ranks on the upstart “Independents”.

The Lib Dems would also, presumably, have to take all the Executive seats themselves, there would be more Lib Dems on the Executive than off it, and it would be hard to see that as a reflection of the way the electorate voted.

The nub of the problem is likely to be Cllr Reeves’ track record on the Local Plan. She has been a stalwart ally of former leader Paul Spooner over the years, consistently voting in its favour, as she did at the controversial adoption meeting a week before the election. Her support also appeared to handicap the Lib Dem group acting as an effective opposition.

Her stance alienated those in the Guildford Greenbelt Group and subsequently, when formed, the now defunct Independent Alliance whose members are now part of R4GV. From their point of view the appointment of a Local Plan supporter as council leader would be akin to the appointment of Remainer Theresa May as Prime Minister in the wake of the Referendum. It will only store up problems and prevent any effective fight against the Local Plan.

The Lib Dem group has been consistently divided over the Local Plan. It is, for instance, unlikely that Onslow Lib Dems will support proposals for development of Blackwell Farm. Burpham Lib Dems might not be keen to support Gosden Hill plans nor Liz Hogger in Effingham the Wisley development. Together they number six of their 17.

A laissez-faire attitude to how their members vote over the Local Plan might have been okay when the Lib Dems had no power but how will it look if it is Conservative pro Local Plan votes that push through unpopular decisions?

The legacy and the challenge that the adoption of the Local Plan has left is daunting. As Lib Dem David Goodwin said in the adoption debate, claims that it was a non-political decision that should have occurred in the purdah period were always ridiculous.

For now, while the political turmoil at Millmead continues, all we have is rumour and speculation. But it would seem that the Lib Dems have a big decision to make before the situation clarifies.

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test 6 Responses to Comment: Will Lib Dems Rely on Tory Votes to Elect Council Leader?

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 11, 2019 at 1:30 pm

    Without doubt, if the Lib Dems do a deal with the Tories, residents will again feel betrayed and will make their feelings felt.

  2. Anthony Edwards Reply

    May 11, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    Why is it that politicians – national and local – feel they have the right to bend the beliefs on which they were elected directly they take office?

    As the previous contributor points out, residents are going to feel very betrayed if the Lib Dems do a deal with the Tories. That’s not what Guildford voted for – or want.

  3. Peta Malthouse Reply

    May 11, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    If Cllr Reeves takes such a step I would have to ask why we would be surprised. What I am surprised about is that she is still Leader of the Lib Dems given her stance on the Local Plan and her obvious inability to keep her party together.

    She is not leading them on issues that many wish to follow and the comparison with Theresa May is a good one. Democracy at local level should be election by proportional representation. That is what the Lib Dems claim to want… here is their opportunity to demonstrate it

  4. Christine Townsend Reply

    May 11, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    Lib Dems look to the future. But if they are the new Tories you may go the same way.

  5. N Nev Reply

    May 12, 2019 at 9:59 am

    I did not vote for another Conservative whitewash over the feelings of thousands of local residents who vehemently oppose the destruction of the Wisley green area and removal of the villages from the Green Belt.

    For Cllr Spooner to go in favour of another Conservative policy supporter would be nothing short of another betrayal.

  6. Brenda Jones Reply

    May 12, 2019 at 3:04 pm

    I agree with N Nev. We have no choice but to pay our council taxes each month, and yet too frequently this has felt more like being forced to hand money over to the mob.

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