Fringe Box



The Dragon Says: Power-shares Will Reveal True Face of New Lib Dem Council

Published on: 19 May, 2019
Updated on: 21 May, 2019

Any honeymoon period for the new Lib Dem council is likely to be short.

Soon, very soon, we should see what Caroline Reeves meant by “partnership working” when making her successful pitch for the council leadership on Wednesday. How many of the Executive positions are given to other parties (and which ones) will be a clear indicator of intent.

There will be others. The standards of behaviour at the council are a factor in the election result. In recent years, observers have watched with dismay as investigations have appeared to be whitewashes and complaints poorly investigated and judged. Councillors have treated each other with disrespect and councillor codes and the Nolan Principles, on many occasions, ignored. The restoration of public trust must be a priority.

Cllr Hodge’s letter in support of GBC’s Wisley garden village proposal

One part of this, a litmus test of the new leadership’s intent, must be an investigation into the SCC “letter of support” for the Wisley Garden Village bid. The evidence is very clear thanks to Ben Paton, an Ockham resident (and unsuccessful GGG candidate for Effingham) who made a Freedom of Information request and a dutiful SCC FoI officer who conducted more than a superficial check of the relevant documents.

It is not good enough to say that, in the scheme of things, this is a trivial matter. It might not be the crime of the century, it might not be the most serious offence that has been committed at GBC, but it was a clear case of councillors and/or council officers attempting to deceive us. It was wrong, it must not be tolerated and we should know who is culpable.

we must hope for the best, recognise that some of the tasks are difficult and maintain our scrutiny. Guildford expects.

Then there is the Local Plan. Cllr Reeves has said there’s to be a review. How that is conducted will be key. Bob Hughes, chairman of the Guildford Conservative Association said, when interviewed, that support for the Conservatives dropped off very significantly, in the dying days of the previous council, after the Plan was forced through.

If so, hardly surprising. Whether it was legally permissible, or not, many felt it was a deeply unethical thing to do when the most important vote, that of the people of Guildford, was only days away. The determination to fetter the next council appeared deeply undemocratic.

But in the end, the electorate gave their verdict and it was not approval of the Local Plan. Most Lib Dem voters probably voted on Brexit and even most of those who voted Conservative were unlikely to be avid supporters of the Plan, after all the Conservatives are the traditional guardians of the green belt.

In truth, this Plan was never “Local”. It is a Plan pushed through, stage after stage, against widespread opposition. There was no “Local” mandate for it. In 2015 the Conservatives had “vowed” to protect the green belt. No, it was a plan essentially devised by a small group of Conservatives more determined to collaborate with a Conservative central government than represent the views of even their own Conservative voters in Guildford, let alone the majority.

So the review must fully explore what can be done to maximise revision and if central government prevent that it must be exposed so that we know that this is a Westminster Plan being imposed on us. If the Conservative Party headquarters think that is a good idea more fool them.

There are plenty of other normally safe Conservative seats in the South East and other parts of the country too, facing similarly unpopular plans. At this time, the Tories can hardly afford to make themselves even more unpopular.

Of course, there are other very important issues to tackle. Caroline Reeves was absolutely right to highlight the problems of homelessness and deprivation right here in our generally affluent borough. It is an affront to most of us. They might be ageless problems but we must do our utmost to find new, more effective policies.

And how refreshing it was to hear Cllr Maddy Redpath, one of the new young voices on the council, giving her fulsome and magnanimous support to Cllr Reeves from within another party (see: Lib Dems Secure Leadership Of Borough Council With Tory and Labour Votes). There were signs of other energetic fresh voices from within the Lib Dems ranks too which augurs well, if they can maintain an open-minded, fresh view of the issues.

we might actually see issues being decided on their merits rather than on party or leadership lines

How council decisions will be arrived at will be another key indicator of whether we really are going to see cultural change. Discipline in the Lib Dem group has been necessarily loose in recent years, and there are obviously different views on the Local Plan and other issues. So be it.

If similar tolerance is shown within R4GV we might actually see issues being decided on their merits rather than on party or leadership lines.

A former councillor, David Reeve, whose exemplary integrity will be missed, pointed out, during the Local Plan adoption debate, that on every agenda is stated the value, “We will strive to be the best council”. It’s an honourable, if ambitious, aspiration. Time will tell.

But we must hope for the best, recognise that some of the tasks are difficult and maintain our scrutiny. Guildford expects.

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test 2 Responses to The Dragon Says: Power-shares Will Reveal True Face of New Lib Dem Council

  1. Gordon Bridger Reply

    May 20, 2019 at 10:00 am

    A very perceptive analysis.

    One assumed, having been an ex-Liberal councillor that the last sources of assistance to securing control over the council would be a discredited Conservative rump. I had assumed that natural liberal values and supporters would welcome the advent of new highly committed and very professional councillors.

    We will see how the new Executive is composed – with such a fragile majority the leaders should surely appreciate that it would be in the public and their own interest not to return to a discredited system of allocating responsibilities.

    The council has now, in my opinion, one of the most talented dedicated and responsible number of councillors that I can recall.

    Not to use these newcomers and all their skill and dedication would be a tragedy.

    Gordon Bridger is an hon alderman and former Mayor of Guildford.

  2. David Roberts Reply

    May 24, 2019 at 10:38 am

    The only way to prevent these recurrent scandals at GBC is a root-and-branch review of the council’s codes of conduct and complaints procedure by an independent body such as Transparency International UK, who have produced extensive reports on conduct in local government.

    Here is an opportunity for the new council to put the dingy Tory past behind it and become an example of ethical best practice.

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