Fringe Box



Labour Calls GBC Leadership Handover ‘Puzzling’ and ‘a Shoddy Business’

Published on: 24 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 27 Sep, 2020

By Martin Giles

Guildford Labour Party is upset by the decision of GBC leader Caroline Reeves to stand down in favour of R4GV’s Joss Bigmore.

Party chairman Brian Creese said: “We remain puzzled by Cllr Reeves’ decision to stand aside and would not have supported her leadership bid last year had the nature of the arrangement with R4GV been known.”

But some observers are even more puzzled by the remarks, since the arrangement was reached months after the election and has been known since early Spring, being well-publicised in The Dragon.

See: Shock Council Move as Leader Reeves Hands Over Power To R4GV’s Joss Bigmore

Mr Creese added: “Guildford Labour also offers its sympathies with those who voted Lib Dem in the expectation of getting a Lib Dem-led council. Few would have expected their elected councillors to hand over the council to a different and opposing political group.

In the May 2019 borough election for the 48 council seats, the Lib Dems took 17 and the new R4GV Party 16. Normally the leader of the largest party is unchallenged. The margin was close but talks aimed at power-sharing between the two parties broke down. So at the first full council meeting, Cllrs Reeves and Bigmore (Holy Trinity) let the full council decide.

Cllrs Joss Bigmore and Caroline Reeves

Cllr Reeves (Friary & St Nicolas) won by four votes, including the two-member Labour group and most of the nine survivors of the once-powerful 35-seat Tory group that had ruled for 16 years (one member would quickly turn Independent, the remaining eight would later split in half).

In her acceptance speech, Cllr Reeves said she wanted a more inclusive style of local government and initially included one R4GV member and one from GGG on her Executive. But earlier this year, perhaps concerned R4GV could take control with Conservative support, the Lib Dems struck a more formal power-sharing arrangement with the party.

A proposed July handover was delayed amid some confusion. But at the time, Cllr Bigmore praised the leadership of Cllr Reeves during the lockdown, saying for her to remain in charge was appropriate.

Cllr James Walsh

The GBC’s Labour councillors, James Walsh and Angela Gunning, both in Stoke ward, echoed their party chairman. “We were part of the full council that voted to approve a Liberal Democrat-led coalition, so it is extremely disappointing they’ve decided to throw in the towel,” said Cllr Walsh.

“None of us, not least those who voted for the Cllr Reeves, knew about this deal and we have to ask what the point of voting for the Liberal Democrats is if all they do is hand over power to someone else once they have it?

Cllr Angela Gunning

“This is a shoddy business and the people of Guildford deserve to be told what this deal with Cllr Bigmore entails. One rumour is that Cllr Bigmore will hand over power again just before the next election, making political accountability usefully murkier for both parties in the run-up to polling day.”

The Dragon understands the switchback of leadership is part of the written agreement, giving the Lib Dems and R4GV two years each, evenly sharing the four-year council term. That would mean R4GV returning leadership in October 2022.

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