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‘Elephant in the Zoom’, Stayaway Tories Gain in Hustings Debate

Published on: 4 May, 2021
Updated on: 7 May, 2021

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Images (other than of Prof Hadfield) taken from University of Surrey’s webcast

Straw polls appear to show Guildford Conservatives have attracted more support by staying away from hustings.

Seven parties are contesting county council seats in the Guildford divisions, but only four sent candidates to be questioned after being invited by the University of Surrey’s politics department, The Guildford Greenbelt Group and the Green Party were also absent.

The straw polls, taken before and after the debate on Thursday (April 29), showed the Conservatives had gained three percentage points to win over 20% of voters present, despite no one from their party showing up.

But the 65-strong audience, including many students, was not representative of all constituents.

George Potter

Liberal Democrats (who came out on top with 37%) and Labour (second with 27%) were both less popular after.

Residents for Guildford and Villages (R4GV) was the only party there to pick up support (moving from 3% to 10%) and even Lib Dem speaker, GBC Cllr George Potter (Burpham), said he wished their speaker was in his party.

The Conservatives had also declined the Dragon invitation to our debates, saying: “We will not be taking part in any online hustings so we can concentrate our efforts on speaking to people directly.”

Professor Amelia Hadfield.

Professor Amelia Hadfield, head of the politics department, said: “I would have thought an online husting promotes the ability to be inclusive and to be able to reach actually rather more people, so it’s a very real shame those groups weren’t able to participate.”

Guildford’s county councillors are about two-thirds Conservative and one-third Liberal Democrat. Conservatives have dominated the county council since 1965, losing only one election in 1993 but maintaining their majority.

Cllr Potter, candidate for Guildford East, described the Tories as “the elephant which isn’t on Zoom”, adding “they show their contempt for the electorate.

“They have run Surrey for 24 years and grown complacent and arrogant.”

Lucy Connor

R4GV’s Lucy Connor, standing for Guildford South West, said: “We want to see change after these 24 years of stagnant politics. We want to work alongside other independent councillors.”

R4GV was founded only in 2019 but have a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in the borough council they now lead. They won nearly every seat where they fielded a candidate. Ms Connor said they had “proved we can make change happen”.

And she laid into county Conservatives for their bid last year to replace all Surrey’s borough and district councils with one authority, calling it a “blatant power-grab to take away individual voter’s democratic rights to be heard”.But questions directed at the county candidates about borough/district and PCC responsibilities clearly showed confusion over the present system.

Asked how they would revitalise the high street, Cllr Potter wanted to make Guildford as cycle-friendly as Amsterdam, and Labour’s Brian Creese (Guildford West) said the London mayor had introduced a Business Improvement District, which Guildford already has.

John Morris

The need to improve infrastructure was a unifying issue for all parties. Asked about making Surrey carbon-neutral, The Peace Party’s John Morris (Guildford West) said: “I will do my best to follow the good work started.”

But Cllr Potter said: “The county council’s climate change plan is not worth the paper it’s written on” and they needed to make public transport affordable.

Mr Creese said he would put solar panels on roofs of public buildings and Ms Connor championed better cycle-paths and footpaths.

Brian Creese

“It’s awful when you’re cycling into town and it just disappears in the middle of a road,” she said. “What is that all about?

“It’s awful thinking about people pushing buggies along, or using wheelchairs; even just walking along the pathway sometimes it’s a trip hazard.”

Questions on improving rural communities and promoting the arts were put by Guildford North candidate Anne Rouse (Labour and Co-operative) and R4GV’s Dom Frazer, director of live music venue Boileroom and a Friary & St Nicolas candidate for the borough council, with neither declaring their candidacies.

When asked for council tax intentions, Mr Morris said it central government should supply extra funding. Ms Connor said highways should be brought in-house to keep the cost down.

Cllr Potter said county management salaries needed to be cut. “There’s been a complete failure to make the back-office savings we’ve seen at the borough and district level,” he said.

Mr Creese agreed. “We pay £6.5 million a year on a handful of staff,” he said, and called the council’s investments “disastrous.

“I’d like to see Surrey’s reserves invested in Surrey, for people and businesses locally,” he said. “Why do we own a shopping centre in Swindon or whatever it is? This is ludicrous.”

One man in the audience, Harry Eve, was unhappy the Greens were standing against Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG) there.

“GGG are the party for environmental issues as they have demonstrated in Guildford Borough Council,” he said. “You risk dividing the vote and letting the Tories in, which would be a disaster.”

The Green Party has an agreement with the Liberal Democrats not to stand for the same seat to avoid splitting the vote.

Cllr Potter said: “My understanding is that Greens approached GGG about working with them and their response was all the Greens should just join GGG.

“No interest in collaboration, just join us or go away.”

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test 5 Responses to ‘Elephant in the Zoom’, Stayaway Tories Gain in Hustings Debate

  1. Sam Peters Reply

    May 5, 2021 at 7:42 am

    The Green Party would certainly have attended but, unfortunately, the invitation went to a previous inbox which is no longer monitored.

    As for the attacks from GGG, Cllr Potter is correct, we approached the party and were told in no uncertain terms that there would be no collaboration whatsoever.

    We always campaign positively and collaboratively but are happy to defend ourselves if in the unfortunate position of being attacked by another party. Again, I would point out that our policies on protecting the green belt are very similar to GGG’s, although quite a bit stronger and more expansive. Our own councillor on GBC, and the countless others at all levels across Surrey, can more than attest to this.

    However, it is in all other areas that the Green Party really demonstrates its value. We are not a single-issue or a protest party, and have policies on everything from social care, to education, to sustainable jobs, to transport, and more – covering everything that the various councils have input to in our daily lives. A single-issue party with no policies in any other area, at least judging by the GGG literature received by residents, cannot provide the same assurances to residents that they will be working on all the issues that matter to our local community.

    In Shere division, where I am standing, the GGG candidate is also a former Conservative who stood for that party in the last election. With this lack of policy on anything but the green belt, I am concerned how the party would align itself on Surrey County Council in all these other important issues.

    The best chance of overturning Conservative control and Conservative policies in Shere, and thus protecting the green belt, and also fighting the cuts to public services and working hard for local communities on all other areas of council policy, is a vote for the Green Party.

    Sam Peters is the Green Party candidate for Shere in the forthcoming SCC elections.

    • Ben Paton Reply

      May 9, 2021 at 9:43 am

      For ten years there has been a public debate about Guildford’s Local Plan.

      The Green Party was conspicuous by its absence.

      It said nothing useful or relevant during all those years. Nothing has changed.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    May 5, 2021 at 2:50 pm

    Mr Peters thinks GGG is too local and “single issue”. Well, I think the Green Party is too national and left-wing. Much of the revolutionary rhetoric in its national manifesto is just irrelevant.

    I recently wrote an article for the GGG newsletter about the implications of the Dasgupta Review for putting an economic value on nature in public policy. Is this parochial for Mr Peters?

    I’m no Tory but it’s good that GGG have a well-qualified ex-Tory activist as candidate for Shere Division. She will appeal to many natural conservative voters who are disillusioned with Tory control of our councils and want a sensible change.

    GGG do collaborate but not with national parties. They have a no-compete pact in these elections with R4GV and are developing networks of collaboration with like-minded grassroots groups across the country. Cllr Potter may have a different kind of collaboration in mind, such as his former Lib Dem leader’s vote in support of Guildford’s Tory Local Plan in 2019.

  3. Ramsey Nagaty Reply

    May 5, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    The Green Party approached GGG offering not to compete. We told them where we were standing, in the county council Shere division and in the borough council by-election following the sad death of Cllr Patrick Sheard. Mark Bray-Parry who leads the Green Party in Guildford felt they may have a chance in SCC Shere Division as there was a Green Party borough councillor, Diana Jones, in Tillingbourne ward. GGG, in 2019, had not contested the seat, however we subsequently were told by many voters they had thought they voted for Susan Parker’s party.

    I advised Mark, GGG would contest Shere division as we had good support throughout the area but if they stood as well the vote could be split.

    Mark said he would allow me to make my case to his party meeting but I never received an invite to do so. Mark also said they would not compete with GGG in the by-election for Send Ward.

    So, I was astounded to see that they put up a candidate in Send ward.

    Our candidate for Shere Division had been a Conservative supporter and a past candidate but found that she could no longer support them following the Conservative’s failure to honour their pledge to protect the green belt. She had been a long-standing campaigner on the green belt, highways and infrastructure issues and she had worked with Susan Parker at the time of the Local Plan Examination in opposing green belt release and so on.

    Julia Osborn joined the Mole Valley Conservatives when they claimed they would protect the green belt but she resigned from the party and refused a Conservative nomination on the principle that they had not protected the green belt and the countryside.

    Her decision should be commended. She is a parish councillor and has a breadth of experience in local government. I have found her input at GBC where she sits as a parish council representative on the Corporate & Governance Committee very professional and incisive.

    Both Guildford Greenbelt Group candidates live locally within the ward or division in which they are standing, the same cannot be said for the Green Party candidate who at the last election stood for a town centre GBC ward.

    I say kick national politics out of local government and vote GGG.

    Ramsey Nagaty is the leader of the GGG group at Guildford Borough Council

  4. Jules Cranwell Reply

    May 8, 2021 at 7:33 am

    So the Green party contesting Shere has handed the seat to the Tories by a mere 78 votes. It is clear that, otherwise, the GGG candidate would have won by a landslide. As such, SCC has lost the talents of a highly committed individual in Julia Osborn.

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