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Leadership Issue Forces Break Up of Guildford Borough Tories

Published on: 2 Jul, 2020
Updated on: 6 Jul, 2020

By Martin Giles

Divisions within the Conservative group at Guildford Borough Council have resulted in the group breaking in two. The group appears to have been unable to resolve the break down of relationships that had caused Paul Spooner to resign as leader.

Four of the eight Tory councillors have split off to form a “Conservative ‘Independent’” group. The four are: David Bilbe (Normandy), Richard Billington (Tillingbourne), Graham Eyre and Paul Spooner (both Ash South & Tongham).

Those remaining in the original Conservative group are: Nigel Manning, Marsha Moseley (both Ash Vale), Andrew Gomm and Jo Randall (both Ash Wharf).

The statement issued just after midnight said: “The group of four has found it necessary to form a Conservative ‘independent’ group owing to differences within the wider Conservative group of eight.

“The Conservative ‘independent’ group will have particular focus on working locally at the Council level to address Climate Change by pressing for strong action, based on free-market, pro-business policies.”

And the four councillors are quoted saying as one: “We support good spatial planning, delivery of much-needed infrastructure, local and neighbourhood plans with sustainability and the environment at the heart of good development.

“Our focus is on the whole borough, and whilst we continue to work hard in representing residents in our own wards, we will also engage in developing and supporting progressive policies and innovation that will benefit all, taking into account the challenges presented due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“We remain members of the Conservative Party and appreciate the support of our local Conservative Associations in enabling this new group to be formed from among the Conservative councillors elected in May 2019. None of us has any intention to leave the party or stand on any banner that does not include ‘Conservative’ at the next elections.”

The four breakaway councillors come under three different Conservative Associations which are aligned with Parliamentary constituency areas rather than local authority areas. Cllr Spooner and Eyre in Ash come under Surrey Heath, Cllr Bilbe in Normandy under Woking and Cllr Billington under Mole Valley. None falls under the Guildford Conservative Association”

A leader of the new group is not named but Paul Spooner is described as its spokesman. One immediate question is how this will affect any bid by Cllr Spooner to become a county councillor. He admitted in his recent interview that he had sought the Conservative nomination as their Ash candidate for the county council election scheduled to be held next May and that his application for the nomination had contributed to the breakdown with his relationship with Cllrs Nigel Manning and Marsha Moseley, the incumbent, which appears to be at the heart of the party split.

According to the statement: “Cllr Billington will continue to observe political neutrality during the remainder of his Mayoral term until May 2021, and will abstain from political group activity during this period as is the convention while serving as Mayor of Guildford.

“He will return to a more active role within the group at the end of his term as Mayor. This is no different to his previous status within the Conservative group whilst serving as Mayor.”

The impact of the break up at the borough council is probably minimal. The Liberal Democrats and Residents for Guildford and Villages groups hold 33 of the 48 seats and, with their power-sharing agreement, dominate. In any case, the Conservative group has not been voting as a disciplined block for some time.

Far less certain is the electoral impact at next year’s county council election and the next borough council election in 2023. The split is also a symptom of the pressure caused by the national Conservative planning policy on home county areas like Guildford, especially those with high percentages of green belt of which the Conservatives used to be seen as guardians.

Councillors from the “original Conservative group have been invited to respond.

See also: Dragon Interview: Former Conservative Group Leader – Why I Resigned

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test 11 Responses to Leadership Issue Forces Break Up of Guildford Borough Tories

  1. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 2, 2020 at 9:06 am

    So half the tories have flounced off from the Manning/Moseley axis.

    And they will now focus on climate change. That is somewhat ironic, given it was this mob who forced through a Local Plan which will be ruinous to the local environment, given it is based on huge estates in the countryside, which will rely almost totally on the car for travel.

  2. Jim Allen Reply

    July 2, 2020 at 9:09 am

    I’m glad I’m not tied to any political party. Surely it is better to fight for our communities quality of life, than which colour or shade of colour the friends want to paint the railings of constraints dictated by a disassociated central vision?

  3. Adam Aaronson Reply

    July 2, 2020 at 10:49 am

    So that’s what those Zoom breakout rooms are designed for.

  4. Ian Campbell Reply

    July 2, 2020 at 11:14 am

    The residents of GBC must stop councillors feuds and make them focus on the real threat that the whole of Surrey faces. Where are the local houses going to go? Decades of ducking the issue are coming to an end.

    Guildford is surrounded by green belt. The example being followed by Slough Borough Council may be relevant. Slough too is surrounded by green belt. Their neighbour, South Bucks Council refused to host Slough’s 8,000 overspill. Following pressure, three local councils have appointed consultants to make spatial recommendations.

    Whatever they recommend will be contentious. It might be a shrewd move by GBC to take the lead if they want to influence the outcome. To be effective this means a cross-party consensus may be needed. Local councils who present a united front will have an advantage.

    Managing fall-out from pandemic fall-out, and pressure to kick-start the economy will change agendas.

  5. John Powell Reply

    July 2, 2020 at 12:19 pm

    Come on boys and girls you gave a real duty to collaborate with each other as things are.

    You may not realise that the way you are dealing with things at present comes over a more like playground games than responsible politics.

    I really hope I sound like your dad or your headteacher giving you a lecture when you were nine-years-old.

    One hundred lines please. “I must do my job responsibly.” And I want them done by first thing tomorrow morning or I am going to stop your expenses.

    You can go now and get on with it.

  6. Caroline Perkins Reply

    July 2, 2020 at 1:20 pm

    Who is meant to be on playground duty in Ash?

  7. Peta Malthouse Reply

    July 2, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    If there has been a fallout then it is best to be clear with the electorate as to why that is the case and also to be clear in their objectives.

    Good on them I say.

  8. Wayne Smith Reply

    July 3, 2020 at 8:29 pm

    How ironic that Cllr Spooner has never had a good word to say about Independents.

  9. Stuart Taylor Reply

    July 4, 2020 at 9:27 am

    The group might have more impact drawing attention to their grievances within the party at the moment, while they make up half of the Conservative group, compared to if it was four of 30. It is not 100% clear to those of us outside what those grievances are though.

    It sounds like they might need relationship counselling.

  10. Anthony Brookes Reply

    July 7, 2020 at 5:25 pm

    It is interesting how climate change is mentioned in the announcement.

    Although scientists in their thousands are rejecting the theory of catastrophic global warming caused by CO2 there is bound to be a slow acceptance of the truth. Even Sir Paul Beresford, to whom I have supplied all the facts, is so far reluctant to publicly acknowledge the changing scene.

    He is right however that to be a Conservative you have to be a member of the party and not of another.

  11. Gary Cowan Reply

    July 8, 2020 at 9:16 pm

    As an Independent borough councillor in Wokingham, I observe that the “gang of three” Conservatives here are still Conservatives, split or no split.

    Real Independents are not tarred with any political brush and the sooner the old blue guard whoever they are consigned to the long grass, where they put most residents aims and ambitions, the better. Keeping them is to say goodbye to all our green fields.

    Gary Cowan is an Independent borough councillor for Arborfield on Wokingham Borough Council.

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