Has the Tea Party movement reached Yorkshire? First we had the remarkable election of Peter Davies as Mayor of Doncaster – although the jury is out on whether he will be able to achieve anything much. Now there are some interesting rumblings of dissent in East Riding. Cllr Stephen Parnaby, the Council leader, has been deselected along with nine other Conservative councillors including four other Cabinet Members. An appeal is under way.
What makes the developments in East Riding interesting is the involvement of the Taxpayers Alliance. There is plenty of frustration around the country that even when a Conservative council is elected the Council Tax is still much too high and that wasteful spending continues. Of course that is not the only issue where Conservative councils often fail to implement Conservative policies – there is adoption being blocked by political correctness, jobsworth health and safety rules, resistance to free schools, failure to evict Council tenants involved in anti social behaviour, failure to promote home ownership. The list could go on. But Council Tax is probably at the top. Those who vote Conservative are entitled to feel cheated if they see a Conservative council elected which then pursues Socialist policies.
Andrew Allison blogs triumphantly on the Taxpayers Alliance site about the saga as follows:
The old adage you reap what you sow is as true today as when it was first coined. When our elected representatives fail to submit themselves to the wishes of those who elect them, there are consequences; and those consequences can be severe.
In March, I received a phone call from Alexandra Wood, a reporter from the Yorkshire Post. She told me the EastRiding of Yorkshire Council were about to pay £364,205 into the pension pot of Sue Lockwood, the Corporate Resources Director. She wanted to take early retirement, and this discretionary payment was going to be made to enhance her pension. At a time when we are being told to tighten our belts and when community groups are being told there isn't any money to help them, the council's leadership thought it was fitting to spend our money to enhance the pension of one member of staff!
I organised a protest outside County Hall in Beverley at the beginning of May, and held another protest in June. The response from the public was fantastic. I received many emails urging me on in the campaign, and the story ran for weeks in the Yorkshire Post, the Hull Daily Mail and on the BBC. Unfortunately, despite the many requests for councillors to see reason, this payment was made. The Conservative leader of the council, Stephen Parnaby, and the cabinet thought this was the end of the story. It wasn't, and what they didn't realise was the level of anger inside their own party.
Under new rules, Conservative Party candidates have to be approved by a regional panel. Those councillors who sit in safe seats, thinking they are in a job for life, are being judged on results. All ten cabinet members were called for interviews and asked to justify their decisions. Many have been found wanting, and a total of ten councillors have been removed from the party's list of approved candidates. They include the leader, deputy leader, group secretary and chief whip.
These councillors are allowed to appeal against this decision. They have 28 days, although I think it is unlikely any appeals will be successful. They have crossed the line. I haven't met anyone – apart from them – who think the discretionary payment was justified. People power has won. Those who have tried to defend the indefensible have found themselves out in the cold.
It is now obvious there is a lame-duck leadership in charge of the East Riding. The people want strong leadership, acting in their best interests. Nothing will change until the new year, and we will then have to see who rises to the top and becomes the new leader of the council. Rest assured we in the TPA will hold them to account until the local elections in May and beyond.
This proves our local campaigns work. They provide a channel for the silent majority to express their views. I hope this story encourages you to campaign in your locality. Together we can win the war against waste, and prove that low taxes benefit us all.
Will this prove a an isolated incident or should the Town halls of Britain brace themselves for a tea party tidal wave? More likely the former. Usually when I meet people who complain about their local council I find that once I suggest they put themselves forward to be a councillor they look at their shoes and change the subject. You can hardly expect regional panels of Conservative stalwarts to engage in mass deselections without credible people coming forward as alternatives. The Taxpayers Alliance doesn't have any branches at all in most towns and cities, so the prospect of it providing a mass influx seems remote. Sometimes they pick curious targets – such as Westminster Council, or Kensington and Chelsea Council, which have two of the lowest Council Tax levels in the country.
A British tea party movement on anything like the US scale is hard to imagine. Even if it came about their could be equivalent problems. We could have people who promise to cut taxes without a detailed plan and then prove clueless about how to deliver that once they are elected. We could have politically inexperienced newcomers to the Conservative Party rapidly becoming candidates and then making "gaffes", turning out to have a background in witchcraft, etc. Overall I would like to see our municipal politics enlivened by Conservative councillors facing real accountability. I don't expect it will happen. But, to paraphrase George Orwell, if there is hope it lies in the Taxpayers Alliance.