East Devon Tories have released a fiery statement accusing the leader of the district council of having “extremely left-wing views” after he suggested potential funding links between East Devon Conservatives and Russian oligarchs.
Dare to question Tory allegiances and look what nonsense they come up with, not that clairvoyant Owl hadn’t foreseen this sort of thing in February.
Are they getting jumpy?
Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk
Paul Arnott leads the East Devon Alliance (courtesy: Paul Arnott)
Conservatives retort he’s extreme left-winger
In their letter, they accuse East Devon District Council (EDDC) leader Paul Arnott (Coly Valley), head of the Democratic Alliance Group coalition running the council, of having a “remarkable chip on his shoulder” and of appearing to “believe that any successful businessman can only have done it through dubious means.”
The response follows a column published by councillor Arnott published by the Exmouth Journal last Sunday [24 May].
In the piece, Cllr Arnott referred to a previous article he had written which questioned the fundraising tactics of East Devon Conservatives, saying that former East Devon Tory MP Sir Hugo Swire had a “fondness” for raising party funds “at exclusive auctions from close associates and family of Russian oligarchs.”
In his latest article, Cllr Arnott challenged the East Devon Conservatives to “confirm none of their past local campaigning has drawn on their Russian-sourced HQ funding, and confirm that future elections and campaigns will be wholly free of that dirty money?”
He also asked them to join him “in an appeal to the PM that all Russian cash in their bulging funding pot is returned.”
The council leader also questioned how the local Tory group had obtained the funding for glossy leaflets and a newly advertised role for a campaign manager.
He added: “In some ways, independents such as me should take this as a compliment. The Tories have obviously lost all confidence in their local ability on the ground to run any kind of campaign.
“Lucky them, though. People like me standing have to raise every penny for leaflets on our own, with a tiny amount of help in my case from my group, the East Devon Alliance, with the odd sign or placard.”
In response, East Devon Conservatives published a blistering statement on Wednesday [27 April] stating they only receive money from membership fees and donations from local residents and local fundraising activities. “There is no national (still less international!) money provided for local Devon campaigns”, they added.
Defending their leafleting campaign and new campaign manager job they said: “East Devon Conservatives more often than not have employed professional campaign staff with money being raised locally and the recent job advertisement is nothing unusual.
“From time to time, we issue newsletters to residents and not just at election time. We believe residents should be kept informed.”
The rebuttal then goes on the counter-attack, criticising EDDC’s recent decision to double car parking charges in 21 council-run seaside car parks, describing the move as “arrogant and insensitive”. The council also raised fees by 50 per cent in five other ‘prime location’ car parks.
The council leadership has defended the rise, the first in 12 years, saying it was needed to raise £1.1 million extra a year to help pay for essential public services.
The Tory statement also criticises the council’s leadership for its handling of rent charges for businesses wanting to offer outdoor seating at Exmouth’s town centre square, the Strand.
The issue was resolved last month after the council backtracked on its initial proposals, eventually reaching “mutually agreeable rents” between the vendors and the council.
The statement slams the independent group for hiring new council staff “whilst apparently lacking the resources to pay for them” and for spending thousands of pounds on an unpublished Local Government Association report on an employment dispute. [See this EDW post for the explanation of this particular attack levelled in the Tory leaflet “Keeping in Touch; and this post for the most hypocritical.]
[Their announcement concludes: “Being a so-called independent should mean that you are open to working with everyone, yet the mask slips all too often with the East Devon Alliance Party.
“Cllr Arnott would be wise to concentrate his columns on his council’s achievements rather than attack others. We understand that may mean we see fewer of his contributions.”
Before commenting on this piece it’s important to say that plenty of conservatives are decent, honourable, public spirited intelligent people.
Others, as we see here are touched by rather less warmth and fewer brain cells. It can be very difficult when one has had a sense of entitlement and a taste of certainty to realise the public chose to wake up and smell the gravy. It can provoke unreasoned, childish unpleasantness.
Most independent politicians in my experience have less personal ambition than those who choose the party route. I can name two very good local ones who have stood as Independents but were persuaded to join the conservative group because that group’s unchallenged dominance offered the chance to achieve more of their priorities. They both achieved within a relatively short time the previously unsought office of mayor.
Some of the current Independents have significant achievements in their principal careers. The majority were motivated to stand for local government because of a distaste for aspects of how things were, a consequence of a lack of electoral balance and of democratic accountability.
It took three electoral cycles for this movement to achieve success and a further year to overcome the mischief of careerists. These won’t be seen as achievements, more as establishing the opportunity to achieve.
I don’t know any of them well, but have never detected any sense of the politics of envy. No jealousy of legitimately gained success, financial or otherwise. Though I recognise a commonly shared distaste for illegitimately gained wealth, home and abroad, through plundering of the public purse and significantly flawed procurement processes which apparently benefit a targeted few.
It is surely legitimate comment to question the advertisement, for a significant salary, for a campaigns director. If I were a local conservative voter on the minimum wage or universal credit I would want to know why a group which believed itself to possess the collective talent to manage our community’s affairs felt it necessary to employ someone for three times my family’s income to make the case they should surely be capable of themselves.
In the incumbents I have recognised a desire to put the community first and on occasion right wrongs. The presumably anonymous author of the spiteful assassination belittles their achievements, so I will note a few, in a couple of cases noting the shaming distortions of their critic. Coming out of the first lockdown and working remotely they worked to resolve problems with the licensing issues in the Strand, Exmouth, whilst sustaining the appropriate duty of care to the officers on the ground. The tories on the three councils had the opportunity to resolve this over 10 years ago but left the area a hotch potch of ownership and licensing. Stuart Hughes should remember this, he was the lead councillor on the project. Now they seek to exploit it.
The new regime have also resolved recent mistakes in this area caused by the excessive corporate zeal of an outsourcing company, inappropriately tasked by the old guard, who are once again seeking to exploit their own mess.
The new regime have also worked with honourable members from all groups to resolve one of the more distasteful wrongs of the last administration and return Warren View sports ground to it’s rightful place as the home of a community football club. Many residents of Exmouth are well aware now of what really went on in 2016/17 so no need to dwell unless pressed.
Another success achieved in harmony with other groups is to address the functioning of the complaints procedure, which had been used to bully opponents of the dominant group and fallen into disrepute with them and the public. It is still not fully transparent, but I understand Cllr Twiss was a participant in the improved process, which must be a positive.
One endeavour of Cllr Arnott with limited success so far but which has apparently enraged one or two conservatives is his compassionate desire to achieve for the victims of John Humphreys some understanding of how the cesspit of that man’s past remained hidden for over thirty years from the first known offence and still remains substantially concealed. To achieve this requires the active participation of a number of organisations.
This was not mentioned in the conservatives’ anonymous character assassination.
None of us likes paying increased charges in the car parks. But Councils like everyone else, private individuals , businesses, schools , leisure centres etc. even Government all need the money. The Pandemic has severely affected the economy. Councils have to get their money from somewhere to maintain essential public services. Have the tories any better suggestions? No I guess not.
The media don’t seem to have picked up yet on the BVI Prime Minister arrested in a US drug sting is Geoffrey Cox’s very lucrative client that gave him a few awkward moments last year. Another connection which appears to illustrate Cllr Paul Arnott’s point perfectly.