Owl says: So, Honiton and Seaton hospitals sacrificed to Randall-Johnson’s anger?
By P Goodwin, Western Morning News
“As the old saying goes: revenge is a dish best served cold.
For Conservative county councillor Sara Randall Johnson the wait to gain the upper hand on old rival Claire Wright stretched to six years.
When she did, the result was painful and public.
At this week’s bad-tempered and rowdy council health scrutiny meeting, Ms Randall Johnson used her new power of chairmanship to thwart the independent rebel and stamp her authority on the newly-elected authority.
In a move which prompted jeers and cries of “fix” from the public gallery, Randall Johnson ignored a tabled motion to halt hospital bed closure plans and instead allow a fellow Tory, Rufus Gilbert, to seize the momentum by kick starting the debate and swiftly proposing the exact opposite.
She then dismissed Ms Wright’s protest by telling her the power to choose was entirely at her discretion as chair, before moving to a vote against referring the proposals, which was won by a majority of one, with one abstention.
It was a swift and brutal piece of politics. The result: bad headlines averted, no need to trouble Jeremy Hunt with the protests of a rebellious council and the upstart put firmly in her place.
Former Lib Dem county council leader and respected political veteran Brian Greenslade remarked after the meeting that the move had been highly unusual.
He considered that not mentioning or circulating a table motion – one submitted before the meeting begins – was rare: not against procedure but definitely a departure from protocol.
In other words: a low blow but not quite below the belt.
It was clear from the tetchy exchanges during the meeting that there is little love lost between the two women and this is perhaps no surprise.
Wright pulled off a shock victory when she ousted Randall Johnson from her East District Council seat and her position as leader, relegating her into third place in a race for two seats, by the slender margin of just 25 votes.
The defeated leader put on a brave face, claiming she had got her life back after 20 years of public service, but this hardly sounds like the words of a woman who just two years earlier was vying with Sarah Wollaston to become MP for Totnes.
Since that victory, Wright, an outspoken independent campaigner, has become a painful thorn in the side of local Tories at district and county level, particularly around the NHS, where she worked in PR before launching her political career.
She has led the opposition ever since, including two general election campaigns in which she gave MP Hugo Swire a run for his money.
But the campaign to halt bed cuts and hospital closures has been a major factor in her rallying call to local people, the jewel in her campaigning crown.
The recent background to Tuesday’s meeting went like this:
Plans by the Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group to axe 71 beds across four cottage hospitals sparked anger in the Eastern locality.
Amid fears the NHS is planning to sell off the hospitals, relations between the public and NHS officials deteriorated with many accusing executives of lying about their true intentions.
Campaigners, angry that the case has still not been made for the Your Future Care model of home visits, labelled the consultation a sham and turned to the Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Group for help.
It could refer to Mr Hunt though in reality it the plans would have gone to an independent reconfiguration panel who would make recommendations.
What many people wanted was a change in the way the CCG operates and communicates. they wanted a more open approach and they felt this might give the health trust a jolt.
Under the chairmanship of veteran Labour councillor Richard Westlake, the scrutiny group was poised to refer the plans to the Secretary of State if 14 documented points were not addressed.
But he stepped down at the election and Ms Randall Johnson took up control.
At the first meeting of the newly constituted committee in June, it became clear that she did not intend to let this happen.
Ms Wright had proposed to the last meeting that it was time to vote to refer to the Health Secretary and the chair repeatedly came under fire for not putting this to a vote.
There was a lack of clarity among one or two members about the whole process and eventually, members were persuaded to defer a decision until yesterday to get more information.
It appeared that the Conservatives had their ducks in a row on Tuesday.
Wright cried foul when her tabled motion was ignored, claiming she had never seen it happen in six years of committee meetings.
Unfortunately, the legal advice from the council backed Randall Johnson: Motions needed to be proposed and seconded in the meeting.
Would it have changed the vote? Maybe not. It was close though. East Devon leader Paul Diviani rebelled against his members and voted not to refer and one Tory did admit he was wavering.
The way the meeting was handled did little to foster good relations between the council and the community.
Ms Randall Johnson may have done nothing wrong but she certainly didn’t make any new friends in the public gallery.
As for old foes among the membership – no change there.”