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Comment: Generosity of Political Spirit in Short Supply in Ash Parish

Published on: 16 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 18 Jul, 2020

By Martin Giles

Ripples from the fracturing of the Conservative group at Guildford Borough Council (GBC) are disturbing the waters in Ash, the true blue corner of Guildford borough that refused to go with the flow and stood firm against the ebbing tide of Tory support.

And receding tides do allow light to shine on dark corners.

Some disgruntled residents are saying Ash Parish Council (APC), chaired by borough Cllr Nigel Manning, acted “inappropriately” in the way they gave notice of the vacancy caused by the resignation of Cllr Paul Spooner as the parish member for Rowan Field ward. The charge is rejected by Cllr Manning and GBC officers confirm the parish council has done nothing unlawful.

From correspondence seen by The Guildford Dragon, Cllr Spooner initially, it seems, notified his decision to resign (strangely unminuted by APC) to officers at the borough council before Cllr Manning was informed.

The GBC website states the process should then be:

“The Parish Council will notify the Proper Officer of the vacancy. The Proper Officer will send the Parish Council a notice, which they have a duty to display for 14 working days, telling residents about the vacancy.

“An election will be called if ten residents, who are registered to vote in the area where the vacancy has arisen, write to the Returning Officer asking that an election be held. If the parish council is warded, the request must come from ten electors within the relevant ward.”

The notice announcing the vacancy at Ash Parish Council

So on April 14 a notice was sent by GBC to APC for display until May 4, informing readers that a minimum of ten residents from Rowan Field ward was required for a by-election to be called.

Although the notice was posted on the GBC website it was not posted on APC’s otherwise well-managed site. But that is not a legal requirement because the 1974 Local Government Act long pre-dated the internet.

Instead, someone considered posting a single copy on the one notice board outside the parish office was sufficient, even during Covid lockdown, where few pedestrians were likely to pass.

Residents taking their one-hour’s exercise permitted at the time, and eager for parish council news, might have consulted the APC notice board by Ash Library, close to Rowan Field ward, or any of the other APC notice boards, but would not have known about the situation.

The vacancy notice posted on the main APC notice board. Photo courtesy Ash Parish Clerk.

So unsurprisingly, no one did ask for a by-election to see if voters wanted to break the Tory domination of Ash. If enough had, the matter would have had to wait until next spring when elections will again be allowed. Now APC can co-opt another councillor of their choosing.

Every one of the Ash Parish seats is taken by a Tory, even though no one voted for them. Not that it was their fault, the parish council election which coincided with the dramatic borough council election (a debacle for the blue team), was uncontested, along with all but a couple of Guildford parish council elections.

Ash Parish Council – solidly blue. Until the departure of Paul Spooner, all six Ash borough councillors “double-hatted” as parish councillors. Marsha Moseley is also a county councillor.

But no other parish council in the borough seems so obviously and determinedly a fortress for one particular political party. Simple internet searches quickly reveal the allegiance of each of the 11 councillors at Ash (12 until Cllr Spooner’s resignation), is solidly blue.

Now it seems, Chairman Manning is taking his party’s unopposed “election” victory as a mandate to appoint another Conservative to fill the vacancy, so unobtrusively advertised.

When questioned by a resident at the July 13 parish council meeting he said: “Ash Parish Council is a political council” and he was looking for someone with the “right” qualities.

Between the lines, part of the message could be that there’s room for only one silverback in Ash or fur will fly, as Mr Spooner discovered.

But Carla Morson, a Lib Dem who wishes to climb into the cage as an Independent, believes parish councils are not the place for party squabbles. She has won plaudits for organising community support for the vulnerable in Ash during the pandemic lockdown (after some delay, her scheme was eventually granted £5,000 by APC from their £1 million-plus reserves).

Will Manning, Moseley and Co finally recognise that it is not democratically healthy for one party to represent Ash Parish, exclusively, at every level of government, MP, county councillor, all borough councillors and all parish councillors?

Today (July 16) Cllr Manning said: “Ash Parish Councillors are elected under a political banner and since 2003 the entire Ash Parish Council has been elected as Conservatives. There is no reason why the elected councillors should not wish someone with the same values to be part of the council.

“In fact, when the Liberal Democrats had control of Ash Parish Council in the mid-1990s they did exactly the same thing. It seems this does not suit them now the ‘boot is on the other foot’.”

Alas, no party colleague was willing to volunteer [but see Cllr Spooner’s comment below].

Cllr Manning added: “Ash Parish Council has decided to advertise to the wider Ash community for someone who may wish to put themselves forward to become an Ash Parish councillor. This advert will be posted by the end of next week with a five-week response period ending August 29.

“Applicants will be required to complete a short CV and answer a few questions. The decision on who to co-opt will be taken by all Ash Parish Councillors in September.”

So the signs don’t look good but who knows? Perhaps Cllr Manning is fearful of the well-regarded Ms Morson?

And why is Cllr Spooner sparking up on his favourite social media again? The newly self-labelled “Conservative ‘independent’” is now complaining Ms Morson is sailing under false colours. Some say “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” but Mr Spooner seems to have a gift for only making new enemies.

Good luck to the moderators said to be trying to heal the Spooner/Manning rift and good luck to the Conservatives who want to restore the party’s image in Guildford while others keep shooting themselves in every Tory foot they can find.

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test 6 Responses to Comment: Generosity of Political Spirit in Short Supply in Ash Parish

  1. Chris Spencer Reply

    July 17, 2020 at 6:53 am

    All sounds wrong to me. They’ve done nothing unlawful but it’s not what I’d consider to be transparent local government either. The excuse that “the 90s Lib Dems did the same thing” doesn’t wash.

    The world has changed a lot in the past 20-30 years, especially this year. The internet, for example, is much more commonly used. How about using social media during a time when people were locked down at home and as a minimum put the vacancy on your own website? A sheet of paper on one notice board just seems like a way of suppressing demand for an election.

    Good luck to Carla Morson in her efforts to make local government a bit more diverse. Local government is about doing what’s right for the local community and not the local Tory party.

  2. Lisa Wright Reply

    July 17, 2020 at 7:57 am

    How can the system be so biased? What other public organisations only recruit people belonging to one banner?

    What if the scope was only white people or only Christians?

    This is wrong, perhaps the association of parish councils would like to comment?

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 17, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    We have an excellent parish council in West Horsley, and I’ve no idea of the political allegiances of the councillors, apart from one who is also a GGG borough councillor. They work tirelessly for the village, not for a party.

  4. Fiona White Reply

    July 17, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    I would like to correct the comment by Cllr Nigel Manning about co-opted councillors in the 1990s.

    I was an Ash Parish councillor from 1991 to 1999. During that time I remember there were two co-opted councillors. The first was Martin Kemp. I never knew Martin’s political allegiances and, in fact, I still don’t. He was a very active councillor and worked extremely hard for the benefit of the parish. He put a lot of work into making sure that the play equipment was replaced with something more suitable and robust than that which we inherited.

    The second was Denise Smith who was not a Liberal Democrat at the time of her co-option although she did join us later. She was very much involved in replacing the outdated parish offices and parish hall with the building that is there today, including the separate offices for Ash CAB.

    I hope that clarifies the position.

    Fiona White is a Lib Dem borough and county councillor.

  5. Paul Spooner Reply

    July 17, 2020 at 4:26 pm

    I would like clarification on Cllr Manning’s comment “Alas, no party colleague was willing to volunteer” as I believe that former Conservative borough councillor Murray Grubb Jnr, was proposed but was considered ‘unsuitable’ and the last time I checked he was definitely a Party member.

    Paul Spooner is the Conservative ‘independent’ borough councillor for Ash South & Tongham

    Editor’s note: I am grateful to Cllr Spooner for his request. In fact, the sentence: “Alas, no party colleague was willing to volunteer” was not a quote attributed to Cllr Manning (it is not within quote marks in the article) but it reflected my understanding, having spoken to a number of those who had witnessed the parish council meeting and having received an email from Cllr Manning’s in which he said: “Following on from the fact that no election was called following the advertisement of the vacancy, a co-optee was sought from those who had expressed an interest in standing prior to the May 2019 elections. This was unsuccessful.” I have written to Cllr Manning seeking clarification. The article will be corrected as necessary in the light of his response and in the meantime a note added to the article.

  6. Mike Jacobs JP Reply

    July 19, 2020 at 4:40 pm

    I live in the affected [Rowan Field] ward and have been in lockdown for 20 weeks. During the whole of that time, I have been unrepresented and there has been nobody willing to listen to my concerns. My messages to Nigel Manning remain unanswered.

    So much for Tory caring.

    Cllr Manning was invited to comment.

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