“Learn from Neil Parish” Tories told

Senior members of the Conservative party could learn a lesson from MP Neil Parish’s resignation, the independent leader of East Devon District Council (EDDC) says.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

Mr Parish, the former member for Tiverton and Honiton, officially resigned this week after it came to light that he watched pornography on his phone in the House of Commons.

Speaking at a cabinet meeting this week, council leader Paul Arnott (Independent East Devon Alliance and Democratic Alliance Group, Coly Valley) praised an interview with Mr Parish broadcast on BBC Politics South West last weekend. 

Cllr Arnott said: “Long after all the tractor jokes have gone, this will remain as the tragic record of a broken man.

“It is not possible to condone what he did in the chamber of the House of Commons, but in his overnight decision to resign on Saturday morning [30 May] and that astonishingly frank interview he gave, Mr Parish leaves a long political career having at least abided by the best codes regarding resignation so blithely ignored by his superiors.”

Cllr Arnott said he had a “very busy weekend, receiving calls from all and sundry” after the news about Mr Parish broke last Friday afternoon [30 April].

At the EDDC meeting, Tory councillor Bruce De Sarem (Exmouth Littleham), read out a prepared statement from the leader of the local Conservative group, Cllr Colin Brown (Dunkeswell and Otterhead).

He said: “Neil Parish became MP for Tiverton and Honiton in 2010 with a majority of 9,000.

“In the following 12 years he was our MP, he increased that to over 24,000 proving what a good constituency MP he was, working tirelessly for the people of Tiverton and Honiton. 

“We support Neil’s decision to apologise in the circumstances and resign as the member of parliament.”

In the BBC South West interview at the weekend, an emotional Mr Parish admitted watching pornography twice, first whilst looking for tractors and the second time deliberately. He called the latter a “moment of madness.”

While reiterating he was trying to be discreet, Mr Parish said what he did “was absolutely totally wrong.”

“I will have to live with this for the rest of my life. I made a huge terrible mistake and I’m here to tell the world,” he added.

His friend, a Conservative councillor on Mid Devon District Council later claimed that Mr Parish may have been searching online for a ‘Dominator,’ a model of combine harvester, for his farm.

Bristol City mayoral system ditched in Referendum

(The City Mayor is distinct from the regional Metro Mayor covering Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire)

Bristol has voted to scrap the mayoral system. Polling stations closed across Bristol yesterday (May 5) in a referendum to decide the system of local government which will run the city for the next ten years at least.

Max Channon, Tristan Cork, Ellie Kendall, Beth Cruse www.bristolpost.co.uk

While much of the rest of the country hold local council elections – where people get to vote for councillors and representatives to elect them to positions of power in their council chambers – there was a different kind of vote happening in Bristol.

The city elected its city councillors and mayors last May – so this time it wa a referendum on the system of local government itself.

People who did make it to the polling stations were faced with one simple question: should the City of Bristol retain its current system – where a Mayor of Bristol runs the city council – or change to a different way, called the ‘committee system’, where the 70 councillors are organised into committees at City Hall and they run the council instead.

The referendum vote was called last year after a combination of Green Party, Lib Dem and Conservative councillors voted to have it. In May 2021’s elections, even though Labour Mayor Marvin Rees was re-elected for a second term in office, Labour lost their majority of councillors in the council chamber, with the Green Party now having just as many councillors as Labour, for the first time ever.

Mary Page of the Scrap the Mayor campaign reacts after Bristol votes to ditch the ditch the Mayoral system

It’s not the first time such a referendum has been held. Back in 2012, Bristol was the only city in the country to vote in favour of having a directly-elected mayor run its local authority, and later that year George Ferguson was elected as mayor – followed by Marvin Rees in 2016.

The legislation that created that role included a break clause – that if councillors voted for it, after ten years, the question of which system people want could be put back to the voters in a second referendum.

If the vote is for a change to a committee system, it won’t take effect immediately, and won’t instantly remove Marvin Rees from office. The change wouldn’t happen until May 2024 – in two years’ time – when Mr Rees said he intends to stand down anyway.

And the vote will not impact on Bristol’s other directly-elected mayor, either. Since the 2012 creation of the City Mayor for Bristol, the Government created another mayor position – the regional Metro Mayor, who covers Bristol, Bath and North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Since last May that has been Labour’s Dan Norris, whose position won’t change whatever is decided today.

‘The mayoral model has proven a disaster for Bristol’

Councillor Mark Weston, leader of the Conservative group, said: “The mayoral model has proven a disaster for Bristol – too much power at the whim of one individual. The public have rejected this unaccountable model of government. We now need all parties to work together to bring in a more conciliatory form of politics to Bristol.”

05:59Max Channon

Lib Dems hail spirit of cross-party working

Councillor Jos Clark, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, said: “The Bristol Liberal Democrat group brought the motion for this referendum to full council in December last year and in the spirit of cross-party working were happy to let the Green Party second the motion.

“This is a good example of working together for the good of our city and we look forward to more collaboration in future and under a fairer system.”

‘Tonight’s vote marks a new chapter in the way our city is run’

After Bristol voted to scrap its elected mayor and run the council with a committee system, Green group leader Heather Mack said: “The outcome of tonight’s vote marks a new chapter in the way our city is run. For many years now, important decisions affecting the whole of our city have been made behind closed doors by just one person whom the public and elected councillors cannot easily challenge.”

A Correspondent: local Tory leader’s comments “perplexing” 

The latest leaflet popped through your door from the “flush with cash” Conservatives is entitled, ironically, “In Touch”. It also features a mug shot of Neil Parish. – Owl

From a correspondent:

EDDC has voted to retain online meetings (see comments below).

I find the comments of Councillor Brown perplexing.  He says because meetings are not held in the awful health-hazard council chamber in Honiton people feel ” we are somehow superior to them and they increasingly feel distant from their district council”.

On the contrary, as a voter without a car and with no direct public transport to Honiton, being able to access meetings on line makes me feel MUCH closer to the council, rather than the much, much more distant elitist and entitled thinking of Councillor Brown – who lives in, er, Honiton!

” Councillor Val Ranger claimed that moving to the alternative format of meetings would be “50 years out of date”, arguing it would mark a return to the rules set up in 1972.

She added: “It skews the whole voting system and it favours an older demographic of people who are free to attend meetings night and day.”

Whereas, leader of the Conservative group, councillor Colin Brown said: “Local people are starting to think we are somehow superior to them and they increasingly feel distant from their district council.”


Tractorgate aftermath proves voters want candidate alliances, says Claire Wright

Claire Wright westcountryvoices.co.uk 

Claire Wright

East Devon independent parliamentary candidate Claire Wright stood for election in 2015, 2017 and 2019, coming second each time. Now the resignation of Tory MP Neil Parish has brought her into the spotlight as a possible candidate for the Tiverton and Honiton by-election. Claire wrote to WestCountry Voices about her reaction to the resignation, and her decision.

 Neil Parish’s announcement that he would resign after admitting he looked at porn in parliament has sparked a significant debate on candidate alliances.

Within minutes of the media reporting Neil Parish’s intention to resign, I received several messages and phone calls from people asking me if I was going to contest his Tiverton and Honiton parliamentary seat.

I ran for the adjacent East Devon parliamentary seat three times as an Independent, coming second each time: in 2019 I gained almost 26,000 votes, slashing a massive Tory majority to just 6,700.

During each campaign I was deluged with emails and phone calls from people urging me to work with the other parties in the hope that they would stand down to allow me a straight run against the Tory candidate.

However, this was not possible. The Labour Party has a policy of running a candidate in every seat, albeit focusing their efforts in target constituencies. The LibDems appear to be more open to persuasion nationally; locally, however, their candidate was determined to run.The Greens had opted to stand aside for me in 2015 and 2017, but decided to run a candidate in 2019.

Interestingly, if the votes from Labour and the LibDems had come to me in the 2017 general election I would have beaten the then Conservative MP, Hugo Swire.

Back to Tractorgate. For several hours I discussed this with political allies and pondered whether I should launch a campaign for the Tiverton and Honiton seat.

I knew I had to make a decision fast. I quickly absorbed early comment by political analysts and studied previous election results in the constituency. It is a significant Tory stronghold: Neil Parish has a majority of over 24,000.

It was nevertheless tempting. In a by-election, key barriers I normally experience would vanish. Conservative voters’ fears of a Labour government, if they cast their vote for me, would not be an issue. And this government is deeply unpopular following a raft of scandals, appalling and cruel policy decisions and a Prime Minister who cannot tell the truth from a lie. All have combined to mean that life-long Conservative voters are deserting the party in droves.

I knew that the national media attention could make up for my lack of ability to deliver leaflets to each house in an unfamiliar and mostly rural constituency, and mitigate the challenges of gathering a team and launching a campaign.

However, within a few short hours I realised that if I put my hat in the ring, I would be splitting the LibDem vote, and potentially hampering the chances of ousting a Conservative representative of the worst government in memory in one of the safest seats in the country.

Although the Labour Party has been the runner-up in previous elections, it has come a distant second, and the LibDems have a history of appealing to one-nation Conservative voters in the South West.

There is a general view among political parties that supporters want them to fly the flag so they have someone they can vote for. In my three general election campaigns, however, the very opposite has been starkly true.

Given the messages I received on Saturday, I decided I should make a public statement on Twitter about standing aside in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election to avoid splitting the LibDem vote – and stating my support for alliances until we have Proportional Representation (PR). This is already used for Police and Crime Commissioner elections in the UK, and is the electoral system used in almost every country across Europe. Unfortunately,  once the Elections Bill becomes law in this country, this too will regress to First Past The Post (FPTP) which favours the Tories.. 

I expected my tweet to be of interest as it was so topical. What I didn’t expect was the monumental level of support it received.

In just a few hours the tweet had sparked thousands of likes, with hundreds of retweets and comments. The total number of likes now stands at almost 13K, with over 1,500 retweets and almost 600 comments, mostly thanking me, with others debating the merits of PR.

My tweet was screenshotted and appeared on PR-campaigning Facebook pages, with hundreds of likes and comments of approval. A few political commentators with large followings also retweeted it with appreciative remarks.

The bind we are in is this. For all the Conservative Party’s outrage about the possibility of a quiet pact between Starmer and Davey, the Tories kill off competition from right-wing parties as soon as a general election is on the horizon, because officials are all too aware that any realistic competition from the right of the political spectrum could fatally wound it.

Nigel Farage twice attempted to challenge the Tories and achieved success, in that he pushed our national politics significantly to the right, with all the associated toxicity that we observe every day.

Farage stood down his Brexit Party candidates from Tory constituencies in 2019. The deal was that the Tory Party effectively morph into the Brexit Party. It has been obvious over the last three years that we are indeed being governed by the Brexit Party, in all but name.

In the meantime, we have three established left-of-centre political parties in England, which almost always run candidates in every seat to “fly the flag” and test their vote. In short, the far-right vote, undivided, can still win with a minority of the votes while the opposition votes are split across the three main opposition parties. Johnson garnered a minority (43.6 per cent) of the total votes cast in 2019 but still ended up with a massive 80-seat majority.

It really looks as though the opposition parties’ approach of standing candidates regardless may now be out of step with voters, many of whom are so disillusioned by our government that they simply want their local Conservative representative ousted.

There are rumours circulating that the next general election will be in the autumn of this year, as the prime minister believes it will be better for him to schedule it earlier than next May, when inflation and the cost of living will be even more crippling – and a recession may be in full swing. He also hopes the electorate will give him a bigger vote of confidence than his own MPs, many of whom are now plotting to move against him.

If political parties are serious about seeing the big picture and addressing the damage done by this government, they will make progressive alliances work. I know it is tough and complicated, but it is possible with determination and fair play.

The worst government in history endlessly cheats by ensuring it change the rules in its favour – see the removal of the Electoral Commission’s teeth, the weakening of the rules on overseas donations, voter ID and the proposed boundary changes. It then plays dirty tricks and smears its opponents.

The only way decent people can defeat these charlatans is by working together. Until we have PR we don’t have a lot of choice, and to get to PR we need this government out: and that means working with the FPTP system to defeat the Conservatives and deliver urgently-needed electoral reform.

Stop press: for an example of the importance of cooperation, take a look at this result:

60.3 per cent of the votes to opposition parties. Conservative elected on a minority vote.

MP stayed at property owned by disgraced councillor

Tories need to be fully transparent and candid about their relationship with John Humphreys, especially from the date of his arrest in 2016. – Owl

It has been revealed that East Devon MP Simon Jupp stayed at a property owned by former councillor John Humphreys the year before he was charged with sexually assaulting two teenage boys and subsequently sentenced to 21 years in prison.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk 

East Devon MP was unaware of investigation

It is believed Mr Jupp stayed at Mr Humphreys’ vacant flat on Salterton Road in Exmouth in the run-up to the 2019 election.

Mr Jupp, who is from Plymouth, had won the local Conservative’s party selection process after East Devon’s previous conservative MP Sir Hugo Swire decided not to stand for re-election.

Humphreys, 60, who was also previously an Exmouth town councillor and at one point served as mayor of Exmouth, was convicted in August last year of sexually assaulting two boys 10 years apart.

Simon Jupp states unequivocally that he knew nothing of Humphreys’ crimes at the time.

In a cabinet meeting [on Wednesday 4 May], leader of East Devon District Council (EDDC) Cllr Paul Arnott (Independent East Devon Alliance and Democratic Alliance Group, Coly Valley) sought clarification from the East Devon Conservatives about whether Simon Jupp stayed at a flat owned by Humphreys in 2019.

This was before Humphreys was charged and appeared at Exeter Magistrates Court, where he was bailed to appear at crown court in 2021.

Cllr Arnott said: “If I had been the person who, as it turns out, was the tenant of John Humphreys, who had just been elected to parliament, on hearing that he had been convicted and sent to jail for 21 years I think what I would have done is issued a press statement about that.”

In a statement following the council meeting, Mr Jupp said: “First and foremost, my thoughts are with the victims of John Humphreys’ horrendous crimes.

“For less than two months in 2019, I lived at a flat owned by Mr Humphreys but was completely unaware of his abhorrent crimes for which he was jailed in August 2021.

“I deplore his actions. Had I known anything about his crimes, I would not have lived at the property and would have immediately reported my concerns to the police.”

In the EDDC cabinet meeting, Conservative councillor Maddy Chapman (Exmouth Brixington) said: “John Humphreys did own a flat in town which was let out for a number of years to different people.

“It was empty at the time and Simon went into it for two or three weeks while he was waiting for his house. So he did not stay with John Humphreys…at no point did Simon Jupp stay with John Humphreys. 

“He rented a flat which I understand John Humphreys’ partner let to him for a couple of weeks while he was waiting for his house in Sidmouth to go through because he wanted to live in the constituency so I wouldn’t like any assertions to fall on Simon. 

“I think he’s a very good MP. He works for East Devon really really well and tries really really hard and supports the local residents. So I was not aware of anything on John Humphreys.

“None of my colleagues were aware and anyone that says that they heard rumours they should have told us.”

At his trial, it was revealed that John Humphreys had been initially questioned on suspicion of sexual offences against children in 2005 but police did not find sufficient evidence for a prosecution. 

Following a complaint by a second victim, Cllr Humphreys was arrested in 2016 before being released under investigation.

Neither incident was made public and Mr Humphreys continued to be a councillor until May 2019, eventually being awarded the honorary title of alderman by the council  in December that year. The title was removed by the council in 2021.

Conservative members of EDDC, of which Mr Humphreys was a member, have also denied having any knowledge of his crimes whilst he was in office or when he was subsequently given his honorary title.