Fringe Box



Dragon Interview: Michel Harper and the Petition for an Elected Mayor

Published on: 17 Oct, 2015
Updated on: 19 Oct, 2015

One of the unanswered questions about the controversial petition, ostensibly organised by former councillor Monika Juneja, has been who funded the payments of £1 per signature, plus bonuses.

The Guildford Dragon has been investigating and interviewed local entrepreneur Michel Harper. This is what he said…

interview questionInterview conducted by Martin Giles

There are rumours circulating that you were the person who funded the petition for a referendum to have an elected mayor for Guildford?

I was a supporter and I did put funds in yes. I had my daughter and my secretaries involved and Raschid Abdullah [friend and business associate of Michel Harper] and I were involved in the petition before that was defeated by the local authority and we were really upset about that; we put in 7,500 signatures and they didn’t accept them.

I am a very strong believer that Guildford could do with a decisive elected individual to achieve things and make decisions for change and progress and all the things that I hope the Masterplan will be resolved to do.

I am not a great advocate of committees at the best of times, history tells us that Guildford [Borough Council] has acted incredibly slowly almost negligently in not keeping up with the times.

Where you involved with Stephen Mansbridge in the organisation of the petition?

No, with Monika [Juneja]. Stephen didn’t have anything to do with it, it’s Monika.

Well he did have something to do with it because he was the one that approached the Students’ Union about it.

Oh, I wouldn’t know anything about that.

Were you the only person funding the petition?

Erm, I don’t really…  I was there, because we, Raschid and I, supported it the last time.

We went a bit further than just putting our signatures down because we believe in it, so I put my resource and my staff in… It was quite a big thing and because we did it at election time before, and we found that successful, so we did it again. I was quite a force in it.

I believe it should have been done ten years ago when we did it the first time, and I believe it is the right thing now. I can’t believe that Guildford has taken so long to try and embrace this.

Who is Raschid Abdullah?

Raschid Abdullah is a local businessman, born and bred in Guildford, he went to George Abbot School with me, he’s a very, very respected businessman in the town and we formed the Trinity Party which was a political party, and we got over seven thousand signatures for an elected mayor.

We funded it that time and we funded it this time because it is the right thing, I just can’t believe that people can’t see. I was the force behind it because I believe it is the right thing.

Actually having someone that you can hold to account is so much better than just having the principal of a committee where you don’t know who is on it and you can’t assess them and judge them and judge their values and such like.

Would you want Stephen Mansbridge to be that mayor?

It is not really about Stephen or anyone else, it is about the principal of having a mayor, somebody who… I would like Boris Johnson, probably, because I think he is charismatic and forward thinking and I just think that it is the right thing… I would have Arnold Schwarzenegger as mayor because again you know where the buck stops you judge them on what they do. And you actually judge them on what they don’t do. I mean North Street is just an open car park, it’s just terrible what’s not been happening, so let’s empower somebody to get something done.

One thing is, I never want to be mayor or want to be a politician, they all get too much stick.

The mayoral thing is something both Raschid and I are involved with because we were so disappointed the last time. We felt and we believed that we had got across the line but I very much believe that the council, as such, defeated it by hook and by crook and I don’t care about going on the record with that.

I hope that it gets across the line this time. I am a big supporter of Monika in trying to achieve that because I think it is good for the town and for all of us.

Trinity party was a group of us, we actually ran for council. I ran, Raschid ran, Nigel Foreman ran. We really believed…

You know my mother signed the petition, but because she didn’t put her middle name down they refused it as a valid signature. It was just madness. And that’s why I have come back again to support this one because I passionately believe that power whether it be presidential or… you have scrutiny committees, be it it Congress or the House of Lords, but you need to centralise the power so people can vote for a visionary and then promote things that way.

End of interview.

In June 2013, when the Guildford Vision Group was challenging GBC over its plans for public consultation of the draft Local Plan, Michel Harper commented on the article Council Leader Resents Latest ‘Obstructive’ Legal Challenge by Guildford Vision Group:

“I am very disturbed by the emotion (anger, frustration etc.) shown by Stephen Mansbridge. Firstly, leadership by example, then by informed good judgement. Mr Mansbridge seems to be at odds with both.

“It is the right and duty of the people to challenge government if they appear to be wrong or not representing the will of the public. This is exactly what the Vision Group is doing, rightly.

“His army experience is irrelevant and the example of Northern Ireland very poor, not to say insulting. I hope the council as a whole will act to redress this and reflect on their recent support for a lower standard of probity in public life by the leader of the council.”

The Trinity Party that Mr Harper refers to was critical of Guildford Borough Council in the years 2003-2006, in particular the handling of the Civic Hall closure and the delay in decisions on its future before it was eventually decided it should be replaced with G Live.

In a letter written in 2005 Raschid Abdullah who chaired the party wrote: “The 14-point manifesto included calls for open forum televised (web cam today) council debate, a directly elected mayor, the disposal of council-owned non-core assets, a reassessment of the Civic [Hall] project and a revitalisation of the town centre.”

See also the BBC story: No mayor referendum in Guildford

Share This Post

Responses to Dragon Interview: Michel Harper and the Petition for an Elected Mayor

  1. Adrian Atkinson Reply

    October 17, 2015 at 10:28 am

    Adverts and posts by the students’ union on their website and Facebook spoke of a consultancy doing research. By all accounts the public were being asked would they support a referendum to decide how Guildford is run.

    It seems the union and the students have been taken for a ride. The union was surprised that Monika Juneja was named as the petition organiser.

    Now there is a question as to whether Mr Harper was told the whole truth.

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *