Back in May, when I was elected as Leader of the Conservative Group, and subsequently as leader of a minority administration at Cambridgeshire County Council, there were many Conservatives who suggested we should form an alliance with UKIP. My answer at the time was that we needed to see how the council bedded down, especially as all but one of the twelve strong UKIP group were new county councillors.
Time has proven that we were right to take that approach. UKIP have proven to be an eclectic, odd bunch and certainly not a group that our consciences would comfortably allow us to work closely with.
I will start by being fair, it would be wrong to paint them all as bad, a few of them have proven to be hard working, conscientious councillors who have taken on the role with relish, but they are in the minority. For the most they are absolutely failing to make an impact and some are proving virtually invisible in their communities, which is a shame because they represent some areas of very high need. From what we are seeing their preferred allegiance seems to be with the Liberal Democrats (No, I don’t get it either).
Probably the best example of the sort of individuals we are dealing with is demonstrated through the conduct of one of them at a recent Corporate Parenting seminar where a few of our looked after children talked to Councillors about life in care.
UKIP’s Cllr Gordon Gillick decided to use it as an opportunity to accuse them of being “takers”, in a way that could easily be described as bullying – fellow Conservative Steve Tierney probably describes the issue far more eloquently than I could. I was astonished by the response of the UKIP Leader in the County who described me as “arrogant” when I challenged him about it by email.
In isolation you could argue that this is just one case from one individual, but there are a surprising number of disturbing issues surrounding UKIP in Cambridgeshire; one of their candidates was found guilty of electoral fraud; they recently made a big issue out of welcoming one of our ex-councillors into UKIP membership despite the disturbing issue that led to his removal from our group in the previous council.
We then had the issue of the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Cambridge City being announced on one day and then standing down the day after. I could, genuinely, add more to this list – but I am sure you get the point by now.
I am pretty sure I will be accused of smears and political nastiness now, and I expect the usual UKIP trolls to make their presence felt and make the argument that every political party has its bad apples. That latter argument, to an extent, has a point, but certainly not in the concentration we are seeing from UKIP in Cambridgeshire.
I stress these are just some real examples of real issues; no exaggeration, no spin – straight fact. I also know from talking to fellow Councillors elsewhere in the country that Cambridgeshire is far from untypical. UKIP seem to make a huge issue out of the “we’re not LIB/LAB/CON” argument. Based on what I have seen they are absolutely right – they are worse. Google the words “UKIP electoral fraud” and you will see what I mean. Isn’t it about time there was a wider debate around this?
Part of me is reluctant to submit this to Conservative Home. I would prefer to talk about more positive issues like:
- The County Council’s ambitious capital programme
- Our proposed City Deal which is a great bit of political partnership working which could unlock the potential of the powerful Greater Cambridge Economy;
- Our Corporate Peer Challenge which described our County Council as “Premier League”
- LGSS, which is our shared services partnership with Northamptonshire (and others) which, as the biggest local government shared services organisation in the country, is saving us millions.
However I cannot hide from the fact that we are a hung Council; I have a genuine desire to work with other political groups to reflect that. But the truth is the UKIP group’s conduct makes it difficult to work with them, and indeed with those that align with them. That is not just a serious issue for the council, but also for Cambridgeshire and its people.