Monday, 24 August 2009

The Great Liberal Democrat Deception

So the Saxilby by-election is over. Jackie Brockway has been re-elected meaning the Conservatives have one more seat on West Lindsey District Council.

Conservative Candidate, Jackie Brockway, worked extremely hard, with the help of local Conservative activists, to be re-elected – letters to voters explaining her decision to resign, from the Liberal Democrat Group and as a Councillor, on an issue of principle, kicked off her campaign. This was immediately followed by the candidate and her team canvassing the entire ward. A letter to postal voters, a leaflet and a final letter to residents formed the literature of the campaign.

No news on United Kingdom Independence Party's usual 'also-ran' Steve Pearson, no sight nor sound of any campaign from them.

The Liberal Democrats put out a somewhat wordy ‘Focus’ newsletter at the start (no change there then) from their candidate Dean Woolley and Ray Sellers (County Councillor). It is my understanding that he was the third member of Saxilby Parish Council who they approached to stand for them. A glossy, full colour leaflet (folded oddly) was their final salvo, but had need to insert an additional sheet with a correction about the money lost, under the previous Lib Dem administration’s Treasury Management Strategy, in the Icelandic banks.

Let’s examine recent history. Jackie was elected in May 2007 as councillor for Saxilby Ward on to West Lindsey District Council, having fought hard to secure victory - I came second (but still the very high poll for a Conservative since the new electoral arrangements came in at the end of the nineties!) - Jackie was placed 22nd (out of 37) with her majority following last year's Middle Rasen Ward By-Election. Having spent her first year as part of the Liberal Democrat Administration, led by Reg Shore, the Conservatives took control in the May 2008 Local elections. Reg was shortly thereafter seemingly ousted as Lib Dem leader and (Saxilby's own) David Cotton became Group Leader, with Jackie as his Deputy.

One of the policies carried over from the preceding administration was the governance review which was considering changing to a Cabinet system, from the current Committee structure and changing from election by ‘thirds’ to ‘all out’ elections. Former Gainsborough Constituency Conservative Association Chairman and Councillor for Market Rasen, Adam Duguid, has spearheaded this reform agenda.

After a year of consideration and consultation the proposals to change electoral system were tabled for the vote: The Conservative Group broadly supporting the change. The Liberal Democrats, who had originally proposed the change were informed they had a ‘free vote’ on the matter. David Cotton had decided to vote against the proposals and expected his group to follow his lead. A small number did not.

Following the meeting the Liberal Democrats who did not follow David Cotton's lead were 'hauled over the coals' as one source described it. It was this incident that led to Jackie's defection and her resignation from the Council in the belief that the people of Saxilby have a right to exercise a choice in the political allegiance of their representative.

In a stinging attack on her former colleagues in her final address she spoke of the Lib Dem’s use of negative politics, they fact that it was they, not her who had forced this situation, their hypocrisy, her shame at witnessing fellow councillors having to justify voting with their consciences rather than the party line.

Cllr. Kristen Smith, Liberal Democrat (Gainsborough East Ward), stated on his blog as the one week remaining mark came into view:
“Next Thursday (20th) there is to be another election for the Saxilby Ward of WLDC. I hope that we have support for Dean Woolley, the Lib Dem candidate. The £6,000 cost of this is to be footed by the taxpayers of West Lindsey.

“I have said in the past and will say in the future, what price democracy? The local residents are entitled to their say, but in this case there seems to be an unnecessary by election. The former councillor resigned and forced a by election, but now is standing as a Tory!”
Cllr Smith’s comments are most peculiar. In the first instance he seems unhappy at the by-election being called owing primarily to cost. Then he only ‘hopes’ that Dean Woolley will have support and in the second paragraph seems to believe that a by-election is unnecessary because Jackie is standing and to my mind seems to imply that she is likely to win.

However, on the Liberal Democrat’s Party website it says that:
“The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full. We aim to disperse power, to foster diversity and to nurture creativity. We believe that the role of the state is to enable all citizens to attain these ideals, to contribute fully to their communities and to take part in the decisions which affect their lives.
I have emboldened three specific parts of the text. The West Lindsey District Council Liberal Democrat Group clearly, through their actions have shown themselves to be opposed to these philosophies. In a letter to postal voters it was explained that:
“I was tied to a party that felt that its own interest comes before the local interest. I was therefore shocked on your behalf when I sat in a political meeting at West Lindsey in April this year and saw LibDem councillors pressure others to vote against their consciences on matters which affect you. I felt this was undemocratic and as an elector you would wish me to stand down so that I was free to tell you about it. Free too to move to a party that puts your interests first.”
In a previous posting in early June, shortly after Jackie’s resignation, Cllr. Smith posted:
“Over the last few weeks it's all been about the County Council elections, now things have moved back to focus on West Lindsey District Council.

“Cllr Jackie Brockway has announced she's resigning from her seat as Saxibly [sic] councillor. A by-election will be called shortly and the people of the district will have the chance to show their dissatisfaction at the Tory administration's policies.”
In a comment posted by Cllr. Smith’s on his blog, in response to a comment by Jackie Brockway, he wrote:
“I still think you did the right thing from resigning from the Liberal Democrat Group. I see a big distinction here between the Liberal Democrat Party rather than the group. My recollection of the converstation [sic] was that I said you could remain a member of the Liberal Democrat party whilst being an independent on the council.”
This is fascinating. So you can be a card carrying member of the Liberal Democrat party, elected as a Liberal Democrat councillor, and choose to remain a member of the party (£50 a year recommended subscription) whilst potentially attacking your own party’s policies, representatives and action. Does this sound right?

It is one of the greatest myths in politics that Liberal Democrats are a nicer bunch of politicians than in other parties. Nick Bye, who is Mayor of Torbay and came third in the Totnes open primary to select a candidate for the Conservatives at the next general election, lamented in his article in The Times that:
“[Dr. Sarah Wollaston] had the good sense to appreciate that party political point-scoring was just not what this audience wanted to hear. I, however, made the mistake of using one of my favorite lines of attack. ‘The biggest myth in British politics is that Liberal Democrats are such nice people’ went down a storm in front of the party executive. But in front of a wider audience, it fell as flat as a pancake.”
The Liberal Democrats have successfully built a considerable reputation as ‘Community Activists’ who are non-political. And nothing is further from the truth. Jackie’s campaign is shining a bright light on to the dark recesses of the Liberal Democrat contingent in West Lindsey. Hopefully this will give an impression of what the local Liberal Democrats are like, that the veil that was drawn across the eyes of so many is now lifted.

The result was a good turnout for a local by-election held in late August. 28.3% turnout (1,193 votes) is not bad for a sunny, summer day.

Jackie Brockway, Conservative: 722 (+13)
Dean Woolley, Liberal Democrat: 407 (-527)
Steve Pearson, UKIP: 62 (-24)

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