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Opinion: I Stand By My Decision to Join the Conservatives

Published on: 4 Nov, 2021
Updated on: 4 Nov, 2021

By Jan Harwood

Conservative borough councillor for Merrow

Following yesterday’s shock news that Cllr Harwood had moved from the Lib Dems to the Conservatives at Guildford Borough Council, The Dragon invited him to explain why he had made his decision.

See also: Shock Move at Millmead – Leading Lib Dem Councillor Defects to the Conservatives

Criticism is an everyday fact of life for anyone who holds political office. Much has been made and will continue to be made of my decision to join the Conservatives but I hope I can provide some clarity here.

My decision can be largely categorised into three sections: 1) the past and my personal political views; 2) the present and my incompatibility with the Liberal Democrats; 3) my future and my aspirations for it.

The Past

My politics have not shifted dramatically over the last 10, or so, years. I remain a socially liberal-minded person with a fierce streak of pragmatism and a distaste for posturing and virtue signalling that has become prevalent in modern politics.

I have never truly “belonged” to any political party. Fundamentally I find the concept of being defined entirely by a badge colour or a forced averaging of every member of an institution to be foolish.

For me, my political affiliation is an indication of the objectives I choose to pursue and the teams that I am willing to work with the achieve those objectives. Historically, the Liberal Democrats fit those objectives, be it during my student years or later on with Brexit.

But they no longer do, and so my pragmatism demands I take action, which I have done.

The Present

Despite the “parting shots” written by Cllr McShane [Lib Dem group leader], including some comparisons which were hurtful given our previously good working relationship, I will keep individuals out of it and simply say that I was dissatisfied with the functioning of the Guildford Liberal Democrats.

I was dissatisfied with the functioning of the Guildford Liberal Democrats…

My greatest gripe is with the Liberal Democrats as a whole; their insistence on not adapting to 50+ years of electoral failure is in my opinion inexcusable.

What is worse, they genuinely believe that the entire electorate is secretly Liberal but just doesn’t know it and that any moment now, they will achieve a great election victory and come riding down from the moral high ground they perceive themselves to occupy and save us all from the great evil that is every Conservative party member.

the Lib Dem’s insistence on not adapting to 50+ years of electoral failure is in my opinion inexcusable

I am saying this as a former campaign manager for the Liberal Democrats, as a former senior cabinet member at Guildford and as a former life-long liberal…

The Liberal Democrats have squandered every opportunity to reform into the centrist party this country so desperately yearns. I cannot in good conscience be complicit in that wasted potential any longer, so I am not.

The Future

Do I endorse every decision ever made or currently being made by Conservative party? No. However, I have absolutely no doubt that out of all the major political parties, the Conservative party has demonstrated the greatest ability to shift and adapt to the ever-changing political landscape.

Those who know me to any degree will know that I am almost fanatically focused on matters of environment, sustainability and biodiversity.

The Liberal Democrats have squandered every opportunity to reform into the centrist party this country so desperately yearns

On the basis that none of the major parties is currently in a position to tackle this global crisis, it would be foolish of me to pick a team to fight this war on climate change with a party other than the one most willing to adapt. The Liberal Democrats have demonstrated time and time again that they are incapable of looking past the “party politics”.

Too concerned with filling paper leaflets (in flagrant disregard for their “green credentials”) with nonsense and petty political point-scoring, or taking credit for things, there is no willingness to build collaborations across the political spectrum or to actually get things done.

I challenge any Liberal Democrat to name an elected individual more dedicated to the cause of climate change action…

The climate emergency is too important for me to continue as part of a team more concerned with those things than progress. This is demonstrated by my immediate removal from my position as lead member for Climate Change on the GBC Executive.

I challenge any Liberal Democrat to name an elected individual more dedicated to the cause of climate change action. My badge colour is clearly more important than the work I was undertaking, work and progress that is unlikely to be taken up by anyone else.

…they genuinely believe that the entire electorate is secretly Liberal but just doesn’t know it…

I will gladly give up my personal ambitions (bear in mind I would have been the next leader of GBC had I remained a Lib Dem) if it means real tangible action on climate change. I genuinely believe working with the Conservative party locally, regionally and nationally has the best chance of delivering that.

I cannot say the same for the Liberal Democrats. Therefore I stand by my decision and pledge to carry on my work in any capacity available to me and with anyone who is willing to fight alongside me, regardless of the colour of badges they wear.

See also: Comment – Will This Shock Defection Allow More Progress?

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test 15 Responses to Opinion: I Stand By My Decision to Join the Conservatives

  1. George Potter Reply

    November 4, 2021 at 7:48 pm

    “Bear in mind I would have been the next leader of GBC had I remained a Lib Dem.”

    This is a very bold claim by Cllr Harwood, but not one which I think would survive a conversation with any of my Lib Dem colleagues…

    George Potter is a Lib Dem borough and county councillor

  2. Scott Smith Reply

    November 4, 2021 at 7:52 pm

    Why not join the Greens?

  3. Paul Deach Reply

    November 4, 2021 at 7:57 pm

    I just want to welcome Jan to Surrey Conservatives. He is clearly a principled fellow and wants to achieve things for the environment which I am sure he will be able to do now the shackles of the Lib Dems have been removed.

    Paul Deach is a Conservative county councillor for Mytchett and Deepcut

  4. Nick Harrison Reply

    November 4, 2021 at 8:03 pm

    We deserve a by-election on this. It is impossible for Jan Harwood to claim to represent Merrow in any capacity.

    • Lisa Wright Reply

      November 4, 2021 at 8:24 pm

      I agree, he should stand down, GBC should hold a by-election and let’s see whether Merrow wants a Conservative councillor.

      • Ben Darnton Reply

        November 5, 2021 at 8:53 pm

        An unfortunate choice of day to transfer allegiances from a green and environmentally friendly based party to one that thinks it’s fine to pump raw sewage into our waterways and it’s ok to brazenly break the parliamentary code of conduct.

        I feel sorry for my local Conservative party friends who are decent people and all deserve more from their party leadership.

    • Wayne Smith Reply

      November 4, 2021 at 9:38 pm

      Nick Harrison is quite correct, we do deserve a by-election. The Conservative candidates were soundly beaten at the last local election in Merrow. The message was quite clear.

    • Andrew Calladine Reply

      November 4, 2021 at 10:04 pm

      100% agree. Only an individual with a brass neck would think it ok to change parties and not give the electorate the chance to endorse their decision or not.

    • Alan Morris Reply

      November 8, 2021 at 2:35 pm

      Mr Harwood says that he never truly “belonged” to any political party, fundamentally finding the concept of being defined entirely by a badge colour or a forced averaging of every member of an institution to be foolish.

      Why then did he join the Conservatives rather than realigning himself as an Independent?

  5. Jules Cranwell Reply

    November 5, 2021 at 6:26 am

    I haven’t stopped laughing yet.

    So someone who professes to be dedicated to the environment and biodiversity has joined the party which lumbered us with a Local Plan that will be ruinous on both counts. Furthermore, he has opposed any review of the Plan.

    Will we ever discover his real motives?

  6. Adam Aaronson Reply

    November 5, 2021 at 7:05 am

    If “The Liberal Democrats have squandered every opportunity to reform into the centrist party this country so desperately yearns”, is leaving to join a right-wing party the answer and if so, can we look forward to Mr Harwood’s forthcoming campaign to turn the Conservatives into a centrist party?

    The Tories will no doubt be shuddering.

  7. Linda Parker Picken Reply

    November 5, 2021 at 10:22 am

    “Those who know me to any degree will know that I am almost fanatically focused on matters of environment, sustainability and biodiversity.”

    This statement is totally at odds with Jan Harwood’s record of supporting local planning applications.

    Here’s hoping his successor will realise that “Build! Build! Build!” is not an environmentally friendly strategy.

  8. David Bilbe Reply

    November 5, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    There is little room for party politics at GBC. I found that to be the case during the time of crisis earlier this year, when I chaired Normandy Parish Council for three months before the by-elections. The interim council worked well and achieved a lot in a short space of time based on mutual respect and a sense of leadership. We worked as people even though we were from Independent, GGG, Libdem and Conservative groups. People with a common purpose and not party labels.

    What we should have is a “rainbow” executive based on skills and ability instead of party political appointments.

    The “restriction” agreement (my definition) between R4GV and the Lib Dems seems to exclude Conservatives from being on the Executive regardless of skill and ability. The model needs to change and be more reflective of what people can bring to Guildford rather than pandering to personal agendas and ambitions.

    The council leader is floundering to find the right team which can actually deliver something and instead is resorting to pulling rabbits out of the bag to try and fuel a PR machine and impress voters. Frankly, I do not think people are fooled by this.

    David Bilbe is the Conservative borough councillor for Normandy.

    • John Perkins Reply

      November 9, 2021 at 9:58 am

      Cllr Bilbe gives us a fine argument in favour of proportional representation.

      With proportional numbers of councillors the rules regarding seat allocation on committees would mean that they would automatically reflect the “rainbow” views of the electorate.

      Can he convince the rest of his party?

  9. John Tester Reply

    November 5, 2021 at 12:38 pm

    Having read Cllr Harwood’s opinion piece, I am at a loss. As a resident of Merrow, I was under the impression, that he was a Liberal Democrat. According to his article, his politics have changed very little in 10 years, but he has now changed his political allegiance to the Conservatives.

    It appears he has misled the electorate of Merrow.

    Mr Harwood, if he is a decent man, would resign and stand for his new party of choice.

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