Cllr Barry Lewis is the Conservative Leader of Derbyshire County Council.
We did something this week which I never imagined we’d do. Certainly something I never wanted to do.
The Conservative Group I lead at Derbyshire County Council overwhelmingly supported a motion to not take part in supporting the European Elections, and I wrote to the Party Chairman to let him know our position on the matter.
This was not an easy decision to take, and goes against every natural instinct we have as Conservatives to support our hardworking MEPs and candidates, but we were promised, following the largest public mandate ever received, that we would be out by the 29th March.
The Prime Minister said we would be out by that date countless times (108 times I believe), as did many others in government, and yet here we are racing towards the end of April and facing an increased prospect of participating in a European Election in May that should not be happening.
More significantly for our residents and local businesses is the fact that the uncertainty continues, and this is increasingly becoming a crucible of discontent, disillusionment and anger. There is some apathy and resignation, too, and this is bubbling up as an unwillingness to engage, as people disconnect with politics and politicians. At least at the local level we can share their frustrations and express this in a way they understand and shows that we are able to show a united front and some leadership.
Local Conservative politicians – good, hardworking people in touch with their communities and delivering good services and lower taxes – could well end up paying the price. Imagine the anger residents and supporters will feel when and if the polling card for the European elections hit the doormat just before the local elections of 2nd May? How might you feel that the Brexit you voted for and was promised wasn’t delivered? To me it’s astonishing that our Prime Minister is barely cognisant of this fact.
From a local government perspective the Government is paralysed by delays in decision-making and the consequent uncertainty that filters back to us means we cannot even adequately plan our budget much beyond 12 months. Uncertainty around the Comprehensive Spending Review and its likely duration for helping plan budgets and spend remain, the Adult Social Care Green Paper is further delayed – all this compounds an already difficult period for local authorities. But for our communities the fundamental question boils down to this: what is our vote worth?
The answer, on the face of it seems to be: nothing. Whether you voted to Leave or Remain, the vast majority of people recognise there is a democratic obligation to deliver what was promised and that government should not abdicate their promise to deliver it. We hope our action underlines to the Party what a critically important issue this is. It threatens the very fabric of democracy in the UK.
Not uniquely, our household was divided on the question of Brexit. I voted to Leave while my wife voted to Remain, and still believes we got the wrong result for all sorts of sensible reasons (I should point out this is no deal breaker for us – we may disagree on this but otherwise get on). But she recognises that on 29th March we should have left the EU, even without a deal.
Moreover, I also informed Brandon Lewis that inviting Jeremy Corbyn to the table in an attempt to pass a deal was in our view a serious mistake for the Prime Minister and, consequently, our Party. Especially so given the perceived problems of antisemitism and the disturbing brand of left wing views being expressed within the Labour Party under his leadership. Corbyn and Labour deserve no credibility, and yet the Conservative Party handed a Marxist an opportunity to look statesman-like enough to rival our Prime Minister. This, for me and many in my Group, was the last straw.
We have made our position public and we have no regrets in doing so.
We never want to find ourselves in this position again. The Prime Minister, the Party and the Government need to get this done, heal the rifts and get on with running the Government, to give the public back a sense that their vote, their decision, is worth something.