Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Alec Robertson - my part in his downfall

The bare facts are that Cornwall councillors today voted to remove Alec Robertson as Leader of the authority and to install Jim Currie in his place. But such bare bones cannot possibly do justice to a day of drama and frustration.

The most 'normal' part of the meeting was the debate on the motion of no confidence in the Leader although even that took place in the absence of the man himself. New rules on the declaration of interests mean that the Leader is deemed to have a pecuniary interest in whether he stays in his job because of the allowance he gets as a result. The lawyers made it clear that Cllr Robertson had the right to stay and argue his case if he wanted to but he chose not to do so.

For me, that settled how I would vote. Alec Robertson is a good man who did many good things as Leader. But by ignoring the opportunity to convince us that he would adopt a more democratic style and abandon the privatisation proposal, he left many of us with no option but to vote against him and the Lib Dem group voted for his removal.

But, of course, it wasn't up to the Lib Dems alone. At least 22 councillors from the administration parties also voted to remove him and the final tally was 63 to 49.

With the removal out of the way, the meeting adjourned for lunch and for potential replacements to canvass support. The lobbying and deal making dragged on and on. The Liberal Democrats took the view that we would not seek to take power. We lost at the last election in 2009 and felt it was up to the current administration to find a new leader. We hope, of course, to win control at the elections next May but, until we have a mandate from the people of Cornwall, we will not try to take control by the back door.

We heard various rumours about who was being lined up by each of the other groups and invited those candidates to come to speak to us and try to secure our votes. We took the view that each Lib Dem councillor would be free to vote for whichever candidate they wanted or none at all and so it was right to give the candidates the chance to convince us.

At one stage the two administration groups could not agree on a single candidate and we had the prospect of rival candidacies. And then there was the spectre of Jim Currie, whose resignation from the cabinet had perhaps put the final nail in Alec Robertson's chances of staying in power. But a further adjournment was called and the vote came down to a contest between Independent Cllr Neil Burden and Conservative Cllr Jim Currie.

In his speech, Cllr Currie made it clear that he would seek to restore control of the council to councillors themselves. He also made it clear (as he had all along) that he would have no truck with the privatisation proposal in its current form. Cllr Burden talked about a change in style, but failed, in my view, to make the same commitments as Cllr Currie had.

And so it came to the vote. I was torn between the two. I like Neil Burden a lot but felt that I had to stick to my principles. I had voted to remove Alec Robertson as leader because of the privatisation policy and could hardly then support a replacement who had similar views.

In the end, Cllr Currie won with 49 votes to 46 for Cllr Burden. By and large, most Conservatives and Independents voted for Neil Burden and most Lib Dems and MK voted for Cllr Currie.

But even then the drama was not finished as four cabinet members - Julian German, Graeme Hicks, Chris Ridgers and Steve Double - immediately announced their resignation from the Cabinet.

We shall wait and see what the next few days bring. There will have to be a considerable change in the cabinet, but Lib Dems will be holding Jim Currie to his promises to be more open and democratic and to end the current privatisation proposals.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice


Mike Sadler said...

Thanks for the commentary - it add a lot of context to what we read on text and see in the web cast. For what it's worth, I agree on the way that you made your decision.

I'm interested in your opinion on the resignations...

Am I right in thinking that that Chris Ridgers and Steve Double are Conservative councillors? If so, what were their motivations for resigning - I would have thought that they would be happier with a Conservative cabinet leader, rather than an Independent? Was it, in your opinion, centred on the Joint Venture?

As for Julian German, and Greame Hicks - any comments on their choice? As an observer, who's witnessed numerous occasions where Cllr Hicks has failed to engage with the public on transport and parking issues - it doesn't seem such a loss to me, but that might be a misinformed view.

Alex Folkes said...

Hi Mike, I'm afraid that I don't know the motivation behind any of the resignations.

Badham Farm said...

No loss that the rather arrogant Hicks has gone & Julian German was taking leave of his senses in trying to turn Cornwall into an electricity generator at the expense of our Historic Landscape & Tourism a major earner for Cornwall. Perhaps Chris Ridgers may be an actual loss - but maybe he is lining up for a go at the leadership job in future.