New Lib Dem Leader at Somerset County Council, Bill Revans,(Chaucer Forest East) likes to be seen as King Alfred, uniting the disparate peoples of Somerset and marching on together whilst facing down the encroaching Viking hordes. So, at this week’s County meeting, held in the early medieval setting of the Westland’s Leisure Centre Yeovil , it came as a great afront to him when the editor of the Leveller newspaper attempted to compare him and his administration to the Communist dictatorship of North Korea saying “The procedure for asking even the simplest question is so controlled that we feel sure Kim Jong Un will surely be taking note.” Passionately rebuking the troublemaking journo, Revans said “As far as I’m aware they don’t have a public question time in North Korea, there is no press freedom and journalists are killed! There are no death camps in Somerset!” Despite this robust defence of liberalism in action the meeting very quickly descended into chaos as the opposition Tories immediately launched a barrage of procedural points to throw into confusion a motion about the cost of living crisis and the Liberals totally failed to spot the tactic or to stand up to them despite their massive majority and instead crumbled. If only Kim Jong Un had been in charge of standing orders…well, there’d be no one ‘standing’ after the first 10 minutes, that’s for sure….
The county meeting had started with the appointment of the new Chief Executive..one Duncan Sharkey from the lesser known reaches of Windsor Great Park (and whatever Borough council they have there) and then a series of recommendations about financial strategy. Everyone was having their say and it all looked good for inclusivity and ‘all in it together’. And…. the Lib Dems have a massive majority…so sick were the people of Somerset of the disastrous years of Tories running their county that they voted for ‘anybody’ other than the Conservatives. And with the Lib Dems we do mean ‘anybody’. But.. pretty clear it soon became that the Tories still thought they were in charge with Fothergill, Purbrick and co constantly putting in points of order and procedural challenges to the events of the day..and the Lib Dems letting them get away with it.
Lib Dems try to be ‘too nice’
When it came to a Lib Dem motion on the ‘Cost of Living crisis’ the Tories wiped the floor with them. The Dems had tried to be all inclusive with a motion that they thought everyone would support but no the Tories had suddenly turned up with a list of specific things they ought to be doing instead….hilarious seeing as they’d been in power for years at county and their own Government Nationally had overseen the whole cost of living crisis anyway. A bit like seeing all these current Tory leadership candidates blaming their own Government for the way the country was going wrong…despite them being IN that very Government and Party. If ‘only’ there’d have been something they could have done about it!!
So the LibDems tried to be ‘nice’….and let the Tories get away with running the show…instead of calling them out for the hypocrites and procedural game players that they were. The meeting collapsed into chaos and had to be stopped while the Lib Dems tried to work out their own rules.
Labour steps in
Labour members had brought their own Cost of Living Crisis motion and were getting frustrated that the Tories could probably keep throwing in points of order until 2025 at this rate . It was so bad that at one point Cllr Kathy Pearce (Labour, Bridgwater South) accused the Tories of ‘bullying’ the libdems and Cllr Brian Smedley called on the yellows to ‘show some backbone and use your majority’. To no avail….the Lib Dems took the motion back behind closed doors and licked their wounds instead. No doubt wondering how people could be so ‘horrible’ to them…
Heading towards 2pm the Tories had had their fun and made their point (‘s of order) and large numbers started sloping off and leaving the meeting noisily en-route to the Sedgemoor District meeting an hours drive away. This noisy exit of course coincided with the Labour motion being put causing normally ice cool Labour leader Leigh Redman (Bridgwater North Central) to ‘lose it’ with the Tories forcefully rebuking each one that got up to leave as he started his speech.
The Tories had tried the same confuscation tactic and said they would support the Labour motion but only if they changed the words ‘condemn the Government’ to ‘question the Government’. Redman was having none of it and just said ‘no’, then ploughed on with his motion and it was supported unanimously anyway. That’s the way to deal with Tories.
Leigh Redmans speech in full
“Thank you, members, this motion follows on from the previous Cost of living declaration, but stands alone and comes at it from a different angle, we have had the debate around the ‘Crisis’. Members, my motion does broaden out the debate, it also helps us to narrow down to some of those in our communities who will be consequentially impacted by the crisis, coincidentally these are also some of the most economically disadvantaged sectors of our community or those that have no influence over their situation or disability.
Chair I don’t think I need to take up too much more of members time, some landlords are taking advantage of their tenants by not passing on this financial assistance, the motion is clear, identifying those in need and what we can do to support them. The government have missed this error, I am sure they will rush to put it right.
The motion also highlights the impact on Disabled people, people that are not always best placed to highlight their situation. The communication we have already agreed to send can have these additional points added. As we move towards Unitary, the closer working with districts, this motion asks for will help build growing relationships with important partners. We are really in this together, members please support this motion.”
Labour’s Cost of Living Motion
“The ongoing cost-of-living crisis has seen household fuel bills soar to the highest levels in history. The government’s planned rebate will do little to help to those living with meters in their rooms in HMOs or anyone who relies on pre payment meters who already pay more. The rebate is being paid via household electricity bills and there is no decision on whether prepayments will be credited or vouchers issued.
Furthermore, there is no obligation on landlords who include the cost of gas and electricity in tenants’ bills to pass the rebate on. Those excluded from the rebate are often from the most economically disadvantaged sectors of our community.
Alongside this, the impact of the cost of living crisis on sick and disabled people has been grossly underestimated. According to Disability Rights UK spending on this group of people has been cut by £5 billion over the last decade and they are the hardest hit by Austerity. Since April 2017 new claimants have £30 per week less and Universal Credit has excluded the severe disability premium worth around £65 per week to those formerly entitled to it.
Disabled people have higher household fuel costs because they often need additional heating or to have to run life saving equipment such as oxygen ventilators or dialysis machines.
To address these inequalities the council resolves to:
Write to the Chancellor of the Exchequer condemning the decision to exclude vulnerable people from meaningful support with the cost of living crisis and demanding that they immediately act to address this inequality and ensure that arrangements for paying the rebate to the excluded groups are put into place.
Write to Somerset MPs asking them to lobby the government to increase cost of living help payments available to sick and disabled people with immediate effect.
Produce and publicise an information leaflet for private sector landlords in Somerset who charge for household fuel as part of rent urging them to pass on the rebate to their tenants especially those in shared houses or HMOs.”
Proposed by Cllr Redman Seconded by Cllr Pearce
‘Floor Crossers no more!’
As if the meeting wasn’t fraught and full of enough slip-ups, Tory leader Fothergill then made an inadvertent faux pas when challenged by Lib Dem Cabinet member Mike Rigby to ‘cross the floor’ . Fothergill replied “I don’t ‘cross the floor’ like others”. His principled response was directed at Independent turned Lib Dem Rigby, but sadly put his own member Cllr Diogo Rodrigues in the spot as he was standing ready to second the Tory motion….Fothergill must have momentarily forgot that the new Tory member for Bridgwater East had crossed the floor from Labour not long ago. Rodrigues was now, of course, Tory County shadow spokesman for Transport. And , by chance, it was Rigby he was shadowing. Maybe they will compare notes.
If the Lib Dems are going to put some clear yellow water between them and the former Tory administration then they need to start doing it soon otherwise their strings will be very visibly traced back to the hands of Dr Fotherstein and Puppet-master Purbrick..like an especially badly made episode of Thunderbirds. The one where Virgil drops the pod containing the Mole on the head of Gordon by accident while trying to carefully listen to ‘understand’ ‘The Hoods’ point of view….
Oh, Yes M’Lady.