One of the most disappointing set of local election results this year was Labour gaining control of Southampton Council from what had been an excellent Conservative administration under the leadership of Cllr Royston Smith. Among the many innovative policies introduced the one I especially liked was the Council Tax discount for Special Constables – now being copied from Trafford to London.
Anyway it was always going to a tough battle for the Conservatives at a time when Labour were ahead nationally. Since Labour took charge in the City they have proved themselves pretty shambolic.
Two Labour councillors, Cllr Don Thomas and Cllr Keith Morrell have quit to form their own group in protest at budget cuts to a swimming pool.
Cllr Morrell had earlier resigned as a Cabinet Member. The council leader Cllr Richard Williams claimed that Cllr Morrell had resigned due to ill health. He instructed council staff to issue a statement making that claim. However that was not true, the resignation was due to a policy dispute. Emails seen by the Southampton Echo show that this wasn't some misunderstanding but that Cllr Williams had lied.
The report says:
Cllr Morrell came clean within days of the council statement being issued after friends and family grew concerned for his welfare.
But Cllr Williams continued to deny Cllr Morrell gave any other reason than health for his resignation and failed to address the contradictions in their respective accounts when opposition Conservatives brought a motion of no confidence vote to remove Cllr Williams as leader.
The email correspondence which has now been disclosed shows that Cllr Williams was fully aware of Cllr Morrell's real reason for resigning.
The report adds:
Internal emails disclosed to the Echo reveal the communications department was concerned about accusations they had “been duped into issuing false statements”.
Media manager Sharon Watson said the press office had been put in a “very uncomfortable” position.
An inquiry is now being held but we already know what has happened. Yet Cllr Williams refuses to resign.
The Labour leader Ed Miliband has described Cllr Williams as "fantastic."