A false start at EDDC sees new ‘Independent Group’ relying on the discredited Tories rather than the East Devon Alliance, Lib Dems and Greens who local communities voted for in order to achieve change. And the Axe Valley is left out in the cold again.
I was unfortunately unable for personal reasons to attend last night’s annual meeting of EDDC, but many Independent supporters who were there have expressed considerable disappointment. I have however close knowledge of the situation and offer the following comments.
Mandate for change
On May 2nd, after 45 years of increasingly dysfunctional rule by the Conservatives at East Devon District Council, the local electorate reduced their number to just 19 of the 60 councillors. Instead voters elected a majority of 31 Independents, including 11 members of the East Devon Alliance (EDA), 8 Liberal Democrats, and 2 Greens.
A clear mandate was given by local people. Big gains by Independents – both EDA and others – Liberal Democrats and Greens all represented their desire for change. The best administration would have been a coalition of some of these groups, which could have formed a progressive majority of up to 40 seats out of 60.
A new ‘Independent Group’ excludes the East Devon Alliance
Before the elections, all Independent councillors including EDA members were part of the Independent Group, led by Ben Ingham. EDA expected this to continue and looked forward to working with other Independents to form a progressive new administration, possibly in cooperation with the Liberal Democrats and Greens.
However on the day after the elections, Ben formed a new Independent Group, which EDA councillors were not invited to join. He was elected leader and Susie Bond deputy leader. As a result of this exclusion, EDA councillors formed their own group but continued to work for an alliance of EDA with the Ingham-led Independent Group.
The Independent Group relies on the discredited Tories
Since the new Independent Group with 20 members is the largest group on EDDC, they had the right to take the initiative in forming an administration. In this light the EDA leader, Paul Arnott, was happy to second Ingham’s nomination as Leader of the Council.
However there was no justification for the Independent Group, with only one-third of all councillors, to form an exclusively Independent Group cabinet. Even the outgoing Conservative administration, which had an overall majority, was more inclusive, including some non-Conservatives in the Cabinet.
In both the Axe Valley and the Sid Valley, the East Devon Alliance had routed the Conservatives, but in Ben’s selection of his new Cabinet and chairs of key committees, he could find no place for EDA Independents from these areas. The east of East Devon is once again drastically under-represented in the EDDC leadership.
Rewarding the discredited Tory party
Clearly there were personal issues here – Ben had left EDA after being voted out as leader in 2017 – but we had still collaborated in the old Independent Group. Nothing can justify Ben’s apparent decision now to rely more on the defeated Tories than on his fellow Independents.
The Conservatives are the official opposition, entitling them to the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee. But the Independent Group have also allowed them to take the key positions of Chair of the Council and Chair of the Development Management Committee. In contrast they offered EDA only the position of Vice-Chair of the Council. In addition they appear to have voted members of the discredited Tories on to other bodies, at the expense of EDA and Lib Dem candidates.
At the very moment when the electorate voted for change, and the Conservative Party has lost all credibility nationally as well as locally, the EDDC Independent Group seems to have breathed life back into this exhausted party and allowed it to keep several important positions, while turning its back on the other advocates of change.
A way forward
The East Devon Alliance believes that many members of the Independent Group share our desire for change at EDDC. They must surely realise that yesterday was a highly embarrassing false start.
Despite the way that group has chosen to form its administration, I know the EDA group will support them, as the Lib Dems have also said they will, when they propose positive policies for the benefit of East Devon, as well as seeking their support for our own proposals.
In particular, I welcome the fact that when questioned by Paul Arnott, Ben Ingham yesterday repeated his long-held position that EDDC should consider the option of a more collaborative Committee system, rather than the all powerful Leader-with-CEO and small Cabinet model which he has inherited, which leaves most councillors with little real input into major decisions (as I know from the County Council).
In any case, EDA councillors will have healthy proportionate representation on key committees such as Planning, Strategic Planning, Scrutiny, Audit & Governance and Overview, and I am certain that this will give them many opportunities to change the district council in a collaborative and positive way.
We must now hope that despite yesterday, both groups of Independents together with the Lib Dems and Greens can do some real work for local communities in the new Council.
Which pro-European party should we vote for in the South West in the European elections? – a personal view/3
I have explained why people who supported the Independents in the local elections should vote for a pro-European party. But why vote for a party, not an Independent candidate, and which should we vote for?
We can’t vote for an Independent because the voting system is based on party lists for the whole South West region. There isn’t a good Independent candidate anyway.
I don’t think we should vote for Labour because it isn’t a clearly pro-European party, even if it isn’t a clearly pro-Brexit party either – that’s a simplification we don’t need. There are good pro-Europeans among the Labour candidates in the South West, and we will need the support of many Labour MPs to end Brexit. A Labour vote is vastly better than a Tory or Brexit Party vote, but it clearly isn’t the best option.
The pro-European options in the SW are the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Change UK. From the point of view of ending Brexit, supporting remaining in the EU and supporting a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal, these are all equally good options.
How to choose between them? Some advocate ‘tactical voting’. I am a fan of tactical voting when it matters. I would probably vote tactically for whichever candidate is best-placed to defeat the Brexit Party in the Peterborough by-election.
However in the European elections, two things matter. One is to get the maximum number of combined votes for the pro-European parties. For this purpose, it doesn’t matter if you vote Lib Dem, Green or CHUK, your vote will still count.
The other is to get the maximum number of pro-European MEPs elected. This is trickier to decide. In 2014, the Greens got an MEP in the SW, the Lib Dems didn’t. The Greens say this means they’re ahead. The Lib Dems made bigger advances in the local elections; they say they’re ahead. CHUK don’t have a track record.
As someone who has studied the voting system, I’d say it is quite possible that both the Greens and LDs can win seats; I don’t know about CHUK. There is a site which claims to show that it would be better to vote tactically for the LDs, but since it doesn’t explain its evidence and assumptions for recommending this, I treat it with caution.
Therefore I don’t think there is a clear tactical basis for preferring LDs or Greens. I’d say, vote for whichever party is closest to your beliefs. LDs, Greens, CHUK and many Labour supporters have marched together to stay in the EU. Let’s vote together, too, and not support any party using these elections to try to steal a march on their fellow European supporters.
Why people who supported the Independents in the local elections should vote for a pro-European party in the European elections – a personal view /2
After the local elections, East Devon voters now face another vote, for the European Parliament. Many will not vote – but that would be a mistake, as this is an opportunity to have a say. Some people who supported the Independents in the local elections may vote for the Brexit Party. I’ve explained why I think that’s wrong in my first post. But is there a positive case for Independent supporters to vote for a pro-European party?
My personal view is yes. The same Tory complacent self-entitlement, cosy relationships with business interests, indifference to community needs and even plain corruption – which we have swept away in EDDC – exist at a national level. It is not the EU which has part-privatised our NHS, closed our community hospitals and underfunded our schools, but the same Conservative Government.
Independents have tried to present practical solutions to local problems. Leaving the EU is not a practical solution to any of our problems. The £4 billion which Theresa May has wasted on No Deal Brexit preparations is £4 billion NOT going to our hospitals and schools. The 5,000 nurses from EU who have left our NHS are 5,000 nurses not looking after vulnerable members of our communities. The EU laws which protect our environment, consumer standards and working rights are at risk from any right-wing government which wants to allow standards to lapse. (Ask Nigel Farage why he proposed replacing the NHS by private health insurance.)
Brexit has made Britain’s problems worse. Remember how nice it was at Easter when for a fortnight we didn’t have to talk about Brexit? If we don’t stop it now, we face interminable years of Brexit, Brexit, Brexit. Will that really help with any of our real problems?
Brexit has FAILED. Voting for a pro-European party will make it clear the country recognises that. It will put pressure on MPs to put Britain out of its Brexit misery. Let’s do that on May 23rd.
Who should dissatisfied Leave voters blame for the Brexit mess? The first of three posts on the European elections – please share
This is the first of three posts about the European elections on May 23rd, written in a purely personal capacity. They will be about: (1) Who should dissatisfied Leave voters blame? (2) Why Independent supporters should vote for a pro-European party. (3) Which party should you vote for? Is there a case for tactical voting?
WHO SHOULD DISSATISFIED LEAVE VOTERS BLAME?
Over half of East Devon voters supported Leave in 2016 (although 46 per cent did not). Now that Brexit has turned into a shambles, it’s no wonder that people who voted Leave are angry. You vote for something – the Government and MPs should make it happen, yes?
Yet Brexit was never going to be simple. As someone said recently, you’re unpicking 45 years of integration. You’re unpicking the foundations of our economy – millions of British jobs depend on Europe. You’re unpicking our society – making people from other countries who live in the UK feel insecure, so that many (including doctors and nurses) have left. You’re unpicking the Northern Ireland peace process – stirring up new violence in that country.
The first people who should be blamed are Brexit leaders like Boris Johnson who said it would be easy. It was never going to be easy. They lied when they said it would be. They knew about the economy. They knew about Ireland. But they ploughed on. Theresa May has made a huge mess of it, but Leavers like Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg set up this impossible situation in the first place.
Does Nigel Farage actually have any answers, rather than simple slogans?
Nigel Farage is now posing as the answer. But he was always egging on the Tories into more and more extreme positions. He helped create this mess. Now he has set up a new ‘Brexit Party’. One of its candidates in the South West thinks it’s all right to talk about raping women MPs.
If you’re thinking of voting for Farage, just ask yourself: Has he got an answer to how we get out of the Brexit mess? We know it’s complex – has he really explained how he will do it? Unless you honestly think that there is a thought-out solution there, not just the same kind of simple slogans that got us into this mess in the first place, steer clear of the Brexit Party.