Fringe Box



Letter: Guildford Borough Council – Where Democracy Goes to Die

Published on: 9 Jul, 2015
Updated on: 11 Jul, 2015

democracy crossed outFrom George Dokimakis

I attended for the first time on Tuesday evening (July 7) the monthly Guildford Borough Council meeting. I was expecting debate on Guildford’s key issues and I wanted to experience first-hand how the elected officials that hold Guildford’s future in their hands go about safeguarding it.

What I experienced was the worst kind of self-congratulatory, derogatory, tribal politics where power grab was pretty much the order of the day.

I was expecting to see the Conservatives, having won an unprecedented 35 out of 48 seats, through no effort of their own but because of the coincidence of the general election and the fact that local election results follow national trends, being magnanimous in their victory.

Instead I witnessed contempt for the other parties, especially for the Guildford Greenbelt Group (GGG), whose only fault was to challenge the status quo and win three seats from the Conservatives.

No wonder young people are switched off politics when a number of white, middle-aged men are only interested in their own opinion and congratulating each other for the fantastic job they believe they are doing without any regard for what would be best for the borough they represent.

During the pompous proceedings there was complete disregard for all opposition, ignoring the fact that the opposition are elected members representing thousands, the majority actually*, of the borough’s residents.

Request for transparency by the GGG was denied on the questionable grounds of data privacy.

But worst of all was the election of councillor representatives for a number of charities across Guildford.

A number of concerns were raised as to how or why candidates were put forward. In any fair selection, you would expect at least a small biography from each candidate explaining why they are best suited to the position in question as well as allow the candidates to state their case for nomination.

Not in Guildford Borough Council. There is no time for anything non-partisan in there. As long as a Conservative is chosen we can dispense with such niceties.

In a vote that can only be described as a farce, the council did not explain why these people were chosen as candidates nor allow the candidates to explain to the electorate, their fellow councillors, why they were best suited for the position and its requirements.

The explanation for this? There was not enough time and the councillors would stay there for a few more hours if such proceedings were allowed. Guildford’s citizens must be proud to know that their elected representatives, in their one monthly meeting do not have enough time for democracy to take its course.

Why waste time, when the outcome is predetermined and unless you are a Conservative, you won’t be voted in?

Two cases stand out: Cllr Angela Gunning’s removal from the Guildford Waterside Centre as well as Cllr Julia McShane’s removal from the Westborough and Park Barn Community Centre.

In a move that represents the nasty approach the Conservatives plan to follow for the next four years, prior to the meeting Cllr Iseult Roche [Con, Worplesdon] notified Cllr Gunning [Lab, Stoke], against whom she was standing, of her intention to withdraw her nomination.

Then, during the proceedings, Conservative Cllr Roche decided to withdraw her withdrawal whilst at the same time making a small speech as to why she was the most appropriate candidate for the position, the only speech allowed.

Lo and behold, she was voted in with Conservative councillors voting, as throughout, almost en bloc.

Similarly, Cllr McShane [Lib Dem, Westborough], a long-standing councillor for her ward was voted out of the Westborough and Park Barn community centre in favour of the two Conservative councillors in the ward, who had stood as “paper candidates”. One of them had not even turned up for the council meeting.

In a council where the leader proclaims the importance of re-building the council’s damaged reputation, yet sees no issues with remaining in business with a convicted forger and deceiver, we should only expect the council’s resources to be used in favour of the narrow-minded Conservatives’ political agenda instead of the well-being of all of Guildford borough’s citizens, to improve living standards right across the borough.

At the same time, the opposition can be ignored and held in contempt throughout.

As the elections held that night showed, there was no concern for the needs of the external organisations, only the needs of the Conservatives. The next four years will deteriorate Guildford’s standard of living for most residents unless they happen to support the Conservatives.

The council meeting clearly showed that in Guildford Borough, local politics do not transcend party politics and petty behaviours. No wonder it switches people off.

George Dokimakis is a member of the Labour Party.

*47%, of those that voted in the recent GBC elections, voted Conservative.

See also: Letter: Council Appointments Were Not All Tory and Not All To Charities and Letter: The Conservatives Have a Mandate and Are On The Right Track


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Responses to Letter: Guildford Borough Council – Where Democracy Goes to Die

  1. Colin Cross Reply

    July 9, 2015 at 11:13 pm

    George Dokimakis’ comments hit the nail on the head. It was a sorry night for Guildford.

    As a minority party councillor I, and others, despair of the Tories ever seeing the light and respecting the role of borough councillors to contribute, regardless of their party.

    Long-standing positions on a number of local community organisations were ruthlessly taken away and handed to those whose previous record of attendance is pathetic.

    The excuse is that Guildford voted for this. God help us, The worst is yet to come.

    Colin Cross is the Lib Dem borough councillor for Lovelace.

  2. Alan Cooper Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 12:43 am

    Who are these people? As Nigel Farage said [to the EU president Mr. Van Rompuy], “Who are you?”

    Many of the councillors are nonentities who in their own minds have some power in their otherwise insignificant lives.

    There are but a handful there who are trying to do their best for the borough at these meetings. But, as George Dokimakis reports, pomposity apparently rules and those attempting to effect some purpose get removed.

  3. Jules Cranwell Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 7:55 am

    The grass has grown long over the grave of democracy in Guildford.

  4. John Robson Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 8:40 am

    Following the other Dragon article regarding the Mansbridge/GGG councilor non-disclosure allegations I watched a small snippet of the debate and I’m sad to say it’s cringeworthy.

    The council chamber just looks like a cross between an officer’s mess (I’ve been in one) and mini-version of prime minister’s question time, where sensible debate is substituted with sycophantic sermons delivered by the likes of Cllr Rooth in honour of “our leader”.

    Given that this leadership has recently presided over a scandal that went all the way to the Old Bailey, don’t they have more serious matters to debate? Can’t they save the backslapping of the head prefect until they get outside of the school gate?

    I hope for the good of this town the opposition councillors can band together and continue to oppose the regime in Millmead, where, it seems to me, the last vestiges of the Conservative party’s reputation lies in tatters.

  5. Brian Cole Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 10:41 am

    A typical example of someone who doesn’t believe that it often shows a fine command of language to say nothing (or very little).

  6. Brian Walter Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 11:20 am

    I was disgusted to learn of the ruling Tory elite’s behaviour at this week’s council meeting.

    I am not one of those who believes there is no place for party politics in local government – parties have different policies and priorities – but when the views and efforts of other councillors are casually thrown aside as happened on Tuesday night, one can only agree with George Dokimakis that local democracy is in danger.

    As a Guildfordian born and bred, and a Labour party member, I despair for my community over the next four years if this week’s behaviour proves to be typical of the approach of Cllr Mansbridge.

  7. Garry Walton Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 2:16 pm

    Is this Putin’s Russia? No it is just Guildford Borough Council.

  8. Nick Trier Reply

    July 10, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    As a Labour Party member myself I regret that the behaviour of the recently re-elected Tories is no different from that of many councils which have had no effective change of power in decades, in effect turning boroughs like Guildford into one party statelets.

    There is little that can be done if ruling parties command enough votes, but it seems wrong that any party can command a large majority of the seats with less than 50% of the popular vote, and frankly a period of, say, 16 or 20 years with one party rule on a lower share should automatically trigger a switch to proportional representation.

    Note that this is not an argument for PR nationally where we have managed to change governments periodically.

  9. Ben Paton Reply

    July 11, 2015 at 5:46 am

    The deafening silence of the Tory backbenchers is not eloquence, as Mr Cole’s cryptic comment appears to suggest, but complicity. This charade is carried on in the name of their party.

    George Domikakis is spot on with: “…the worst kind of self-congratulatory, derogatory, tribal politics where power grab was pretty much the order of the day”.

    Guildford has become the capital of the worst sort of crony Conservatism. It was bad before the election. Now it is even worse.

    Conservative voters in Guildford are as revolted by the official club merchandise as the fans of a premier league football club when their club sells over-priced tat just to make money.

    This is the council that refuses to obtain and disclose a copy of arithmetic demographic model used by GL Hearn for the SHMA [Strategic Housing Market Assessment] on the grounds that it has no business reason to obtain a copy. Yet this is the model on which the entire local plan is based.

  10. Paul Hart Reply

    July 11, 2015 at 7:17 am

    The meeting is viewable online here:

    I was looking forward to the appearance of a common seal at the end, but that too was a disappointment.

  11. Matthew Cowap Reply

    July 11, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    The simple truth is that the Conservatives were not returned to office on merit. They were returned because the alternative was even worse.

    They would do well to remember they are on probation.

    I am a former Conservative.

    • John Robson Reply

      July 11, 2015 at 1:34 pm

      How ironic that the Conservative electorate’s reward for their robotic support of their Party will be the demolition of their flagship Conservative town as they know it.

      Whilst it will repay their party’s developer chums, parachuting 15,000 houses into the urban area’s surrounding green belt will suffocate the life out of Guildford.

      The transport system, schools, hospitals, doctors surgeries etc, already at breaking point, will exceed saturation levels. The promised infrastructure trade-off for the green belt’s demise will disappear in “unforeseen costs” in the developers’ tales of woe.

      But the voters knew this, right?

      Dave, Boris, and George told you exactly what they intended to do, but instead of listening to rational, balanced arguments it was the colour of a rosette that attracted votes regardless of the repercussions.

      Good luck with that…

  12. Stuart Barnes Reply

    July 12, 2015 at 9:39 am

    The reasons for the so called Conservatives winning both in Guildford and nationally are the far left Sturgeon and Miliband.

    Their bloodcurdling threats meant that “Cast iron Dave” and his followers in Guildford really did not have to do anything. Half of the millions who were going to vote for UKIP decided that the risks were too great and stuck to Dave.

    Scottish independence would have been a tragedy but it would have been better that the ungrateful Scots had been allowed to go away and then this result would not have happened.

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