Cllr Jason Ablewhite is the Leader of Huntingdonshire District Council
Being leader of one of the biggest District Councils in the Country has its challenges. I am lucky to have a large group within the Council and we have been making huge positive steps to ensure that we meet challenges head on and that the aspirations of Government are met. We are in the highest growth area in the highest growing county in the country, and we have embraced sustainable growth as a positive that will bring huge social and economic benefits to the people we represent and to the UK as a whole. Our story is a positive one, of which our Conservative group can all be proud.
The Conservatives have controlled the council since 1975 and as Labour support has dwindled over the years, the Liberal Democrats became the traditional opposition – until last year’s election. Although our support has remained fairly static within Huntingdonshire, we have seen an upsurge of UKIP support that culminated in some of our County Council seats being taken by UKIP last year.
This year I am pleased to say, the District Council held them at bay and out of the 15 seats that were up, we only lost one seat to UKIP. The Liberal Democrats, however, have suffered and have gone down from 11 to just 5. UKIP have seven and are now the official opposition, although we still command a strong Conservative group of 35.
It is interesting that the new leader of their group is a former Conservative councillor who was dismissed from the party following an inappropriate relationship with a patient when he was working as a physiotherapist. His professional body struck him off.
It proves first and foremost that UKIP have no issue with who they select or who they will accept within their ranks so long as they gain more power.
Although we have a large majority, we have always listened to the concerns of all councillors and taken on board their comments.
I have to say that I have a very productive relationship with the Leader of the Liberal Democrats and we worked well together to ensure we all worked for the betterment of our communities.
Since UKIP have taken over as the Opposition, I cannot see past their rhetoric. They deal only in populist soundbites with no substance, they continually make statements about what they will be doing over the coming months and then never deliver. They add very little to the debate at Council and their attendance at scrutiny meetings is poor to say the least.
I think it is very telling that the local press still go to the Liberal Democrats for an opposition statement as they clearly do not see UKIP as credible. Out of the seven there is one of their number that I do genuinely have respect for, and he is clearly in the wrong party. He continually complains to me about their behaviour, their internal bullying and the lack of communication. I am confident that he will walk the floor very soon.
So, in summary, UKIP are not an effective opposition. Rhetoric and no reality, soapboxes and no substance. It is clear to us that they are a one man party and in Huntingdonshire people are realising very quickly that they are not a viable alternative.