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Councillor Not ‘Fully At Peace’ With Decision to Become a Conservative

Published on: 8 Nov, 2021
Updated on: 11 Nov, 2021

By Emily Stemp

local democracy reporter

Cllr Jan Harwood who was sacked as deputy council leader of GBC following his shock defection to the Conservatives from the Liberal Democrats last week, says he was influenced by COP26 but has admitted he is not fully “at peace” with the decision he has made.

He was the lead member for climate change in a coalition arrangement with the Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) party, said the move was because of a lack of competence within the Liberal Democrats and a need to take action.

In the week of COP26, the Merrow councillor said he sees the Conservatives as the party who can best adapt to tackling climate change, but also that it wasn’t an easy decision to take in the week of the government U-turn on sleaze allegations.

Cllr Harwood said he hopes residents that voted for him will understand they will still get the same dedication from him regardless of his party allegiance.

The local Liberal Democrat group said Cllr Harwood’s move came as a “particular surprise and disappointment”, adding that they thank him for his work.

‘COP26 played a part’

With the COP26 conference taking place, he felt that the Conservative party was ready to tackle climate change and this made him feel he make the move in good conscience.

He said: “I felt for the first time that the Conservative party was genuinely ready to take on the challenge of climate change. Without which I could not have made the move in good conscience.

“Perhaps I was simply looking for an excuse but a substantial part of me wants to believe that the time of action is really here. I felt a very strong conviction to be a part of that. Even if I am wrong, at least I will have tried.”

He said he has felt uneasy for some time now with the Liberal Democrat policies both at national and local level, and sees them as a party of protest without a focus on collaboration.

He added: “Here I am trying to try to make it work and build a collaborative approach on the topic of sustainability, biodiversity and climate change and the only way I see forward realistically is with the Conservatives.

“I think it’s more likely that I can change the Conservatives to be more environmentally conscious than I can make the Liberal Democrats more competent.”

Of his time on a coalition at the borough council, he said that unfortunately, the focus was not on environmental matters because the borough councils do not have the resources to make an impact on climate change.

He said: “We are starved of resourcing, and there’s an irony to the people responsible for that of course.”

Cllr Harwood did not believe the Greens were the party for him, because they are not “a serious electoral force” but said he hopes one day there will be proportional representation in this country and more coalition governments.

He said hopes residents who voted for him will recognise that he will continue to work for their interests, but said it has not been an easy decision.

He said: “How could anyone be at peace with walking across the divide halfway through their term? There’s what the voters wanted and voted for, are they the same thing?

“I don’t think they voted for me because of me, they didn’t know me, I didn’t exist before my name got put on a piece of paper. I think I’m more of a protest vote.

“For the people of the borough, I think that the level of fairness they get from me and the representation and leadership I provide has not changed. I would hope my fellow politicians would recognise that and still be willing to carry on with the work we’ve embarked on already regardless of what colour badge I wear.”

Guildford Borough Council leader Joss Bigmore (R4GV, Christchurch) is taking on Cllr Harwood’s portfolio responsibilities until a reshuffle, expected next month.  Cllr Julia McShane (Lib Dem, Westborough) is the new deputy council leader.

Cllr Harwood said in reaction to the appointment: “I was keen to carry on with work, so this feels like a knee jerk reaction, during COP, it just feels wrong and I’m severely disappointed but that’s life, that’s politics.”

Cllr Joss Bigmore

This morning Cllr Bigmore added: “I am grateful for the contribution of Cllr Harwood during his time as deputy leader and member of my Executive. He has passion for the fight against climate change and showed commitment to become fluent in Planning Policy.

“I’m sure his decision to cross the floor was not an easy one, and amongst all the criticism it is important to remember he is fundamentally the same person he was last Monday even if he now wears a different rosette.

“I have not yet appointed a new Executive for the remainder of this administration, like all local authorities we face a myriad of issues and the borough needs a leadership team that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”

Sallie Barker

Sallie Harwood chair of Guildford Conservatives said: “We agree with Jan Harwood’s view that there is a lack of competence and focus in the Lib Dems both nationally and locally.  One only has to look at the council meetings to see that those leading specific portfolios are out of their depth.

“It is now two years since the Lib Dems formed the coalition with R4GV and there has been little, if any, progress made on meeting their election promises or in taking action on the areas that matter to Guildford residents. Jan was an effective deputy leader who, if allowed, would have been able to take the action Guildford desperately needs.

“We know that Jan will continue to represent Merrow residents with the same dedication and energy as he has until now and look forward to working with him on the important areas of climate change and sustainability.”

Reaction to this story has also been requested from the Liberal Democrats.

See also: Opinion – I Stand By My Decision to Join the Conservatives

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Responses to Councillor Not ‘Fully At Peace’ With Decision to Become a Conservative

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 8, 2021 at 11:16 am

    A wise man once told me, “If you can see the bandwagon coming, you’ve missed it”.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    November 8, 2021 at 12:13 pm

    A week is a long time in local politics yesterday’s chip wrapper. Time to move on with running the borough.

  3. Mike Dent Reply

    November 10, 2021 at 7:33 am

    Doesn’t look like Jan Harwood will do the honourable thing and ask the residents of Merrow if they really want a Conservative councillor. I feel sorry for those people who voted for him, regardless of his attempts to placate them. In short, he has hoodwinked them.

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