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Comment: Will This Shock Defection Allow More Progress?

Published on: 3 Nov, 2021
Updated on: 5 Nov, 2021

By Martin Giles

All political parties contain internal tensions. They are made up of people who feel strongly enough about things to stand for an election and take on responsibility. Of course, like any group of people, they do not always agree.

And tensions between two parties, forced by an election result to share power, cannot be at all surprising.

See also: Shock Move at Millmead – Leading Lib Dem Councillor Defects to the Conservatives

But the tensions between members of the R4GV-Lib Dem coalition have been particularly high in recent months and some, including Jan Harwood, were finding it intolerably frustrating. But his decision to join the Conservatives is a genuine shock.

GBC Leader Joss Bigmore and his party colleagues will be aware of the criticism levelled at his party for not moving faster with a review of the Local Plan.

There has been a view formed in some quarters, regularly expressed in comments sent to The Dragon, that the Lib Dems, or some Lib Dems, in alliance with some council officers, were acting as a brake on the council’s desire to carry out a review of the unpopular Local Plan, passed only days before the electorate largely rejected its Conservative authors.

Ironically perhaps, the Conservatives joined the criticism and also pressed for a review, dismissing the concerns often expressed by Cllr Harwood that a review risked higher housing numbers.

But now, his erstwhile Lib Dem colleagues have been left stunned. They too will have been aware of the tensions within the Executive and if there was any hope that a proposal for a coalition between the Lib Dem Group and the Tories would emerge one Lib Dem member said: “Even if there was an edict from all the Lib Dem Executive members the rest of the group would refuse to vote in support of that.”

Also, Lib Dems spoken to cannot understand how Cllr Harwood can have made the major philosophical change to allow such a move. Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party seems a strange destination for a liberal Remainer, however much some on the right of the Conservative party might look to heaven and disagree.

Cllr Jan Harwood delivering his attack on Paul Spooner’s character in May 2020.

And it is not only Harwood’s political philosophy that will have to change. Just 18 months ago, his face contorted with anger, he rounded on Cllr Spooner saying: “Shame on you. You should know better. It does not matter what colour your badge is, or your political party we are all colleagues in this chamber and we should care for one another and your lack of compassion speaks to your character.”

But if, as someone once said “a week is a long time in politics” then 18 months obviously allows the past to become that “Foreign country” where they do things differently.

Once the shock of the move is past, it will be interesting to see what impact this development will have. Cllr Bigmore surely will not allow Cllr Harwood to remain as his deputy leader, nor on the Executive, so how will the responsibilities be shared out, how major a reshuffle will result.

And will Jan Harwood’s decision be eventually seen as a necessary lancing of a boil, relieving pressure and allowing more progress? Or will the secondary shocks running through the party groups bring, more division, more uncertainty and more delay?

See also: Parting Shot at Defecting Councillor, ‘We Hope He Finds His New Political Home to His Liking’

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