Monday, May 08, 2023

Mid Suffolk elections 2023 - if you thought that 2019 was bad for the Tories...

The 2019 District Council elections saw our local Conservatives take something of a hiding but, with the aid of the friendly "Independent" from Combs Ford, they retained control of Mid Suffolk District Council on the casting vote of the Chair.

Now you might have thought that they would then display a degree of humility and at least show some respect for the combined opposition parties following such losses but alas, it was not to be. And thus, on Thursday, they paid the price, courtesy of our local Greens.

In truth, everything favoured the Greens in Mid Suffolk, with an invisible Labour Party fielding just eight sacrificial lambs in predominantly unwinnable wards at the best of times, and the Liberal Democrats effectively trying to do little more than retain their five seats won in 2019 under the disadvantage of losing four incumbents to well-deserved retirement. And, apart from two Reform UK candidates who barely stirred public consciousness, that left twenty-nine Greens facing twenty-eight Conservatives.

And, when an early result saw the demise of the Conservative Group Leader in the Stonhams, Friday promised to be grim for Mid Suffolk Conservatives. As it turned out, grim really wasn't sufficient to describe their fate.

Stowmarket went from three Conservatives, two Greens, a Liberal Democrat and an Independent to six Greens and a Liberal Democrat, whilst Conservative councillors were also ousted in Claydon & Barham, Debenham, Eye, Palgrave, Thurston and Walsham-le-Willows.

Amongst the Conservative losers were Tim Passmore, the County Police and Crime Commissioner, despite moving to Palgrave from Claydon and Barham, and Nick Gowrley, the former Group Leader, who lost his Combs Ford seat in 2019 and re-appeared in Claydon & Barham in an attempt to return. The Deputy Group Leader bit the dust too, effectively decapitating the Conservative Group. 

From a Liberal Democrat perspective, the loss of one of two seats in Needham Market (to a Green) means that the town has a non-Liberal Democrat District Councillor for the first time since 1991, when Ros was elected as a rookie councillor.

So, Mid Suffolk ended up:
    • Greens - 24 seats (up 12)
    • Conservatives - 6 seats (down 10)
    • Liberal Democrats - 4 seats (down 1)
    • Independents - no seats (down 1)
which makes it the first Green majority administration in the Northern Hemisphere and only the second globally.

It will be interesting to see what they do with power, having very little experience of it anywhere, and having never had to have sole responsibility for decision making. If I were a member of the Liberal Democrat Group, the prospect of constructive opposition to a ruling Group with whom relations are good would be a potentially enticing one, offering a possibility of gains for those we represent that probably didn't exist under the Conservatives.

Finally, these elections results represent an outcome that the "Local Conservatives" thoroughly deserved. They don't campaign in any meaningful way, relying solely on the historic record of Suffolk voting Conservative. And even though they knew that the Greens were coming for them, they still seemingly couldn't be bothered to do anything about it. If the Greens dig in as I expect them to, whilst they'll probably lose seats in 2027, they may not face much organised opposition.

Indeed, the best prospect for a Conservative recovery in four years time is for the national party to be thrashed in the next General Election and for an unpopular Labour administration to emerge from it. But I sense that it will come despite the quality of local Conservatives rather than because of it.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

Now that we've found Federal Council, what are we gonna do... with it?

Well, I've now been a member of Federal Council for more than a fortnight and, due to the small matter of some local elections, not much has happened. I've got a meeting pencilled in for 8 June and I'm assuming that there's an outline meeting schedule for the rest of 2023 but other than that, Federal Council remains a bit of a mystery.

It's not as if I've not got a bunch of other things to do, so I can at least be more sanguine about this. In the meantime, I've read the Federal Constitution, which says of Federal Council:

9.12 There shall be a Federal Council which shall consist of the following voting members:

a. Twenty-one people who shall be party members elected by all members of the Party except that persons who, at the date of the close of nominations for election under this paragraph, are members of Parliamentary Parties set out in Article 17 shall not be eligible to be candidates for election under this paragraph. Casual vacancies amongst this group shall be filled in accordance with the election regulations;

b. Three members from each State Party, elected according to their own procedures;

c. Three principal local authority councillors, elected Mayors or Police and Crime Commissioners, elected by the principal local authority councillors, elected Mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners of the Party;

d. Three members of the Young Liberals, elected according to their own procedures;

e. Three representatives of the Parliamentary Group as set out in Article 17.5; and

f. The Chair of the Federal Audit and Scrutiny Committee.

9.13 The Chair of the Federal Council shall be elected by its members.

9.14 Members of the Federal Board may attend and speak at meetings of the Federal Council but may not be voting members of the Federal Council.

9.15 The Council shall be responsible for scrutinising the work of the Federal Board, including ensuring that decisions are being taken in line with the party strategy as voted for by Conference, and may require a response on any issue from the Board.

9.16 The members of the Federal Council shall be sent the Board agenda, decisions and relevant papers. Within five working days of the publication of the decisions any 13 members can request that the Chair of the Federal Council call in any decision by the Federal Board to a meeting of the full Federal Council. The President of the Party will be required to attend this meeting and can bring any others they feel relevant in order to speak in favour of the decision. Any decision of the Federal Board called in can be overturned by a vote in favour by at least 27 members of the Federal Council.

9.17 The Council shall be considered to be a Committee of the Federal Party for the purposes of Articles 2.5, 2.6, 2.7, 8.2, 8.5, 8.8 and 8.9.

I've also looked to see, as far as I can, who got elected to serve on it and whilst I have worked with some of them, or know them because of Ros, there are others who, to be honest, are more of a social media presence. That doesn't entirely surprise me, given that I've kept a relatively low profile within the wider Party for a while now.

And, finally, I've re-read my manifesto. This is what I said I would try to achieve if elected...

But what are my ambitions if elected to serve?

  • Establish the Federal Council as an effective scrutiny body, engaging all of its members in its work and using their strengths to establish its credibility
  • Build a relationship with the Federal Board based on mutual understanding and respect
  • Represent and engage with groups across the Party and Federal Conference to ensure that we focus on what matters to members rather than simply promoting any narrow agenda
  • Create reporting channels that allow members to hold us accountable

So, no great challenge there...

And on reflection, that did look rather like a manifesto for Chair of Federal Council, rather than an ordinary member. So, perhaps I ought to scale back my ambitions a little. How about this:

  • Work with fellow Council members to establish the Federal Council as an effective scrutiny tool
  • Engage with groups across the Party to ensure that I focus on what matters to members rather than simply promoting a narrow agenda
  • Report back using my blog and, if appropriate, Liberal Democrat Voice

There are some things that matter to me - good governance, the Town and Parish Council sector, the Party's international work, for example - which I hope to promote during the next two and a half years. But I like to think of myself as being fairly open minded, willing to hear and consider the arguments whilst not assuming that anyone in a position of authority in the Party has a secret agenda that I should be deeply suspicious of.

And so it begins...