Sunday, 19 May 2019

Rules are rules; and they must apply to Lord Heseltine as much as the humble footsoldiers

On Friday 26 April, the weekly organisational bulletin from CCHQ contained the following unambiguous words:
"...the Party Board remains clear that all Party members, including elected representatives at all levels, are expected to fully support the Party in all elections. Campaigning for or endorsement of any other political party is incompatible with membership of the Party, as is made clear in the Party Constitution, and the Board will not hesitate to continue to enforce these rules."
In today's Sunday Times, Lord Heseltine announced that he would be voting for the Liberal Democrats at next Thursday's EU elections.

He went on to say, "I will retain membership of my local Conservative Association and will continue to take the Conservative whip in the House of Lords."

I am afraid CCHQ must act on this, and treat Lord Heseltine's public disclosure of disloyalty as they would with anyone else. Just for Alan Mabbut wrote:

"...endorsement of any other political party is incompatible with membership of the Party."

Monday, 13 May 2019

Mayors, Money and Me !

My earlier blogpost about refusing to attend the drinks reception following the annual council meeting and Mayor-making has attracted parise and opprobrium in almost equal measure.

I regret that many traditional and long-serving councillors and their friends have taken offence, that was not my intention. In fact, if you read my original post I was at pains not to make it a personal criticism of anyone in particular or even a criticism of the office of Mayor.

However, as anyone who comes into the West Kent office will testify, for almost two years I have used a broken old chair at my desk, as despite many offers from my Chairman and Treasurer to buy me a new one, I don't want to spend members' money unnecessarily. It is therefore hardly a surprise that I should take an equally austere view when it comes to spending taxpayers' money!

Many people have made the valid point that the Mayor does good work and raises a lot of money for charity. This I do not deny. But for me there are three overarching principles at play in this discussion:

1. There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of people in each borough/district who raise money for charity without the reward or encouragement of civic hospitality. In fact, the overwhelming majority don't even receive any civic recognition. For example, a lady in one of the villages I now represent raises £2,000 each year for the local hospice, by opening her garden and selling cakes and teas, in memory of her late husband. As she has advanced in years she now employs paid help to get her garden "up to scratch" so her visitors are not disappointed. Not only does she raise a lot of money, it costs her to do so. If anyone deserves a "free drink" it should be people like her who contribute to the community year after year with little thanks or recognition. I would willingly give up my "free wine" for someone like this.

2. Admittedly (mostly) unfairly, trust in politics and politicians at all levels is lower than ever. One of the reasons for this is we are all seen as "selfish" and/or "in it for ourselves". Turnout is at an historic low, and anyone who stood this year could see the anger by the massive increase in spoiled and abusive ballot papers. "Free drinks" and scenes of councillors congratulating each other behind closed doors at someone else's expense, will simply add to that view. We must be aware of this and not give any reasons to further undermine trust.

3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it's not our money. I was not elected to a "club" or a "fraternity". I was elected to help run a business, but unlike most businesses our customers have no alternative but to pay what we demand, and nowhere else to go if they don't like what they are charged. We simply cannot increase tax by the legal maximum, reduce services and introduce new charges on the basis that we are "cut to the bone" then spend thousands of pounds of civic hospitality at the expense of taxpayers, many of whom struggle to make ends meet and pay their Council Tax. 

So for me this is a point of principle. And I am sorry if my view has offended some of our long serving councillors, but I am reminded of the 4th principle of public life:

"Holders of public office are accountable to the public for their decisions and actions and must submit themselves to the scrutiny necessary to ensure this."

I could not with any integrity defend civic hospitality to the poorest residents in my ward, and I therefore cannot support it.

Annual Mayor Making and Civic Hospitality

I have today declined an invitation to attend the "Civic Reception" to mark the election/appointment of Tonbridge & Malling's new Mayor for 2019/2020. 

While I have a great deal of respect for the Mayor-elect, Cllr Jill Anderson, I am a longstanding supporter of the TaxPayers' Alliance and have spent 20 year's campaigning against all forms of civic hospitality. It would be wrong to change my position now that I am elected. 

The letter below, sent to the Group Leader, outlines my position in greater detail. 

I am greatly looking forward to my first "formal" Council meeting and the election of Jill Anderson as Mayor for the coming year. I very much admire Jill's extraordinary service to the residents of Hadlow and East Peckham, and the borough, over many years. She will make a wonderful Mayor and I wish her every success for the year ahead. 

Notwithstanding the above, while I will, of course, respect the Council's constitution (despite my personal misgivings over the need for a ceremonial Mayor in this modern and egalitarian age) I thought I should write to explain why I will not attend the Civic Reception afterwards. 

As you will probably be aware, as a supporters of the Tax Payers' Alliance (TPA), I have campaigned and written against all forms of "civic hospitality" for over twenty years, and I have no intention of changing my position now that I have been elected. Whilst a solitary glass of wine might not "break the bank", two cases of wine along with "nibbles" and paid overtime (or time off in lieu)  for council staff for the duration of the reception, will probably amount to the combined Council Tax of several households.  

During the election I campaigned specifically on three key pledges

1. To promote the delivery of only core/essential services to residents
2. To seek all ways to reduce Council Tax by eliminating all discretionary and unnecessary spending
3. To at all times represent local people in the council chamber

At a time when T&MBC is increasing Council Tax and introducing new charges for services (ie, green waste collections) I simply cannot accept civic hospitality paid for by our local taxes, and I must therefore decline. I would however be delighted to attend if the event could be sponsored by a local business, or better still if guests were asked to make a personal financial contribution to cover the costs, rather than them being met by tax payers who have no option but to pay regardless of their personal circumstances. 

I am sorry if this sounds severe, but it would be disingenuous for me to attend given my long held and well published view on such matters.

best wishes