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Lib Dems Dismiss Former Tory Leader’s Claim That They Funded Ash Independents

Published on: 28 Jul, 2023
Updated on: 31 Jul, 2023

By David Reading

Guildford Liberal Democrats have refuted a claim from former Tory councillor Paul Spooner that they funded candidates standing as Independents in the Ash parish elections in May.

Several successful candidates maintain they have a non-political role on the council, but Mr Spooner is questioning their independence – claiming some of them are Lib Dems “in disguise”.

Mr Spooner, former leader of the Conservative Group on Guildford Borough Council, told The Dragon he received information that some Independents had declared that their election costs were paid for by the Lib Dem Party.

Former councillors and unsuccessful parish council candidates Paul Spooner and Graham Eyre

He said this information came in a conversation with the Ash parish clerk, Dennis Wheeler. Another former Conservative councillor, Graham Eyre, said he was present during this conversation and supported what Mr Spooner said.

Mr Wheeler agreed that the two councillors came to his office before the co-option meeting but said he could recall no conversation about the payment of election expenses.

Irrespective of what was said during this conversation, the serious question is, did the Lib Dems really fund any candidate standing in the Ash parish elections in May? If that were to be the case, it could be considered dishonest for such a candidate to declare themselves as Independent.

Lib Dem chair Ciaran Doran

Asked for a statement, Ciarán Doran, Chair of Guildford Liberal Democrats, strongly refuted such a suggestion.

“I have spoken with the treasurer of Guildford Liberal Democrats and no money was paid to any agent or candidate for the Ash Parish Council elections,” he said. “In my time with Guildford Liberal Democrats I have never known the party here to field candidates for parish council elections.

“This afternoon I reviewed the election expense statements made by all Ash parish councillors at the offices of Guildford Borough Council, which, as a matter of public record, are open for review by anyone, and there was a zero declaration made by all councillors.”

These election expense statements – confirming what Mr Doran said – can be found on the Ash Parish Council website.

Cllr Fiona White

Mr Spooner’s point that certain Independents are Lib Dems “in disguise” was addressed by the chair of the parish council, Cllr Fiona White, who is a Lib Dem on Guildford Borough Council but sits as an Independent on the parish council.

“I don’t think anyone could seriously accuse us of being Lib Dems in disguise,” she said, referring to her parish role. “We have always been open about our roles on other authorities and very publicly stood for election to the borough council.

“However, we took the view that party politics was not appropriate at parish council level. We are purely dealing with local services within our parish. I always use the example that there is no political argument in deciding on running a cemetery or discussing children’s play equipment.”

Regarding Mr Spooner’s suggestions about Lib Dem funding, she said: “It was an uncontested election and none of us put out any literature or incurred expenses.”

The Tweet sent by Paul Spooner after the parish council co-option selection meeting.

Mr Spooner did not name the councillors he was referring to, but those Independents on APC who are Lib Dems on other authorities are Cllr White, Cllr Carla Morson, Cllr Richard Lucas and Cllr Philip Bellamy.

The whole matter relating to Mr Spooner’s comments arose when he was contacted by The Dragon to discuss his lack of success in his application to be co-opted on to Ash Parish Council after the May election (there were three vacant places still available following the election).

After the co-option meeting, Mr Spooner posted on Twitter: “I stood for co-option at Ash PC last night. Six candidates for three places and I was not successful. Reasons given included inexperience and they didn’t want previous Cllrs to return. Graham Eyre also unsuccessful. I wish the successful candidates well.”

This in itself presented something of a mystery because the councillors’ discussions about all six candidates was carried out in private session and no reasons were given publicly about why some were chosen and not others.

One of the text messages sent to The Dragon by former councillor Paul Spooner.

Questioned about this, Mr Spooner said the comment about “inexperience” came from Cllr White when he informed her he was standing for co-option. “She let me know that there were other candidates with great experience and it would be a challenge for me.” Cllr White says this is untrue.

Mr Spooner also added: “Another apparently said in debate (fed back by other councillors) that they should not take anyone who had previously been a councillor. Whilst he was named I would rather not name him.”

It was then that Mr Spooner referred to the Independents on APC.

“I note that you keep referring to Independent councillors,” he said in a text to The Dragon. “Have you looked at their electoral declarations? The clerk tells me that some Independents have declared that all their election costs were paid for by the Lib Dem Party. This is beyond ridiculous.”

This is challenged by the parish clerk, Dennis Wheeler.

The current Ash Parish Council has nine Independents, four of whom are also Lib Dem borough councillors, and three Conservatives.

Cllr White also disputed Mr Spooner’s assertion that she spoke to him about the experience of the other candidates applying for co-option. She said: “Paul Spooner is mistaken in his recollection of our conversation. I did tell him there were other candidates but as far as I can remember, said nothing whatsoever about their experience.”

Cllr White was on holiday when the co-option decision was made and played no part in the discussion.

When Mr Spooner was told that Guildford Lib Dems had denied funding any Ash election candidate, he said: “The data is probably held by GBC on behalf of Ash PC. It will come out in the end.”

Asked to comment on this, GBC said in a statement: “We have reviewed the expenses forms for the three Ash Parish Wards. We can confirm that all the candidates in the Ash Parish Wards submitted £0.00 expenses for the parish elections. The papers are available for public inspection upon appointment.”



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Responses to Lib Dems Dismiss Former Tory Leader’s Claim That They Funded Ash Independents

  1. Mark Stamp Reply

    July 28, 2023 at 9:33 pm

    I find it interesting that the Lib Dems are adamant that borough-level party politics has no place in parish elections but campaigned in the recent borough election on a national platform, frequently citing the views of their Westminster candidate and statistics saying that “only they could beat the Tories” despite only winning a handful more seats in 2019 than R4GV.

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