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Letter: Shared Council Leadership Good for Guildford After Years of Tory Misrule

Published on: 14 Apr, 2021
Updated on: 14 Apr, 2021

From: Tom Hunt

Lib Dem borough councillor for Friary & St Nicolas and lead for Development Management

In response to: Why Vote For a Party That Wants to Avoid Leadership?

One thing I have learnt since being involved in local politics is that the Conservative Party see power as an end in itself rather than a means with which to effect change. I can therefore see why Paul Spooner struggles with the Liberal Democrat decision to share the leadership of Guildford Borough Council with R4GV.

After the May 2019 election, the Lib Dems were the largest council group with 17 councillors, and R4GV had 15, supplemented by a Green councillor. Caroline Reeves won the leadership of the council and formed an Executive, ultimately including two R4GV councillors.

By January 2020, some senior R4GV councillors had started to voice their dissatisfaction at having only two Exec seats, given the relative size of the council groups. In parallel, Cllr Spooner was attempting to claw his way back into power, by offering a Tory alliance with R4GV.

Whether Cllr Spooner had the backing of all Conservative councillors (by this time, down to eight) is not clear, but he was certainly telling people his rehabilitation was complete and he would shortly be back on GBC’s Executive.

Discussions between the Lib Dems and R4GV kept going throughout this time. Perhaps emboldened by the Tories’ courtship, R4GV now required a 50/50 split of Exec seats and to share the leadership for two years of the four-year term.

History records this is exactly what was eventually agreed, documented in the R4GV/Lib Dem Memorandum of Understanding. But this was a difficult decision for the Lib Dem group at the time.

The borough has suffered so much Tory mismanagement that, far from wanting to avoid the leadership, the Lib Dems agreed to do the right thing for the borough as a whole.

Implementation of the change was rightly delayed by the pandemic, but Caroline showed exemplary leadership by stepping aside to make way for Joss.

Viewed through the Tory lens of “power at all costs”, this was and is an incomprehensible decision. But thankfully, some politicians are capable of doing the right thing regardless of political dogma.

I repeat, this was a terribly difficult decision for the Lib Dem group, but with the benefit of a year’s hindsight, it was the right one. And one upside is seeing Cllr Spooner’s selfish ambition thwarted.

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