Paul Arnott: article in Midweek Herald
Avid readers of this column may (or may not) have noticed an absence of articles by me in the local papers in recent weeks.
This coincided with the period leading up to and after the Annual Council meeting at East Devon, where all sorts can kick off when the Leader for the coming year is discussed and then elected by 60 councillors. Far be it from me to draw any comparisons with our own national leader, but if I must … the vote for me was unanimous, cross-party, with one abstention. Whereas in the House of Commons Mr Johnson would be lucky to muster much more than a quarter of MPs to vote for him. He has no mandate now.
However, by chance, here in East and Mid Devon the electorate can now properly and fully show that we reject the values of The Man With No Shame on the 23rd June and in the postal vote before that. And we can now see the content of the leaflets distributed by the two realistic contenders to win: Helen Hurford and Richard Foorde.
In the possible event of a Conservative win, I may find myself working with Helen as Leader at EDDC, so I have no intention of being negative about her; she seems like a nice person. The leaflet written for her by Conservative Head Office, however, made me laugh out loud.
Out comes the usual spin about the NHS safe in her hands. Helen, in my area alone your party has closed in-patient beds at Axminster, Honiton and Seaton. During the pandemic, there was no intermediate place for recovering Covid-19 patients to be discharged, and instead they went from the RD&E to care homes, leading as proved in the High Court to the needless deaths of residents.
There is talk about support for farmers. The one thing my conversations with Neil Parish, head of the agriculture committee in the Commons, most revealed, was his personal despair that in the six years since the 2016 referendum, farmers had been utterly let down by his government. To his credit, he spoke bravely about this in Parliament.
So no, like the NHS, farming does not need another obedient Tory MP. The Liberal candidate, Richard Foord, a local lad like Helen, is so clearly across all this in his leaflets. As he is on the cost of living, energy bill crisis and so on.
In Helen’s leaflets there is a vague promise about more investment in Devon under the Levelling Up Scheme. I’ve been in meetings with government about this, and all they want to do is pile money into the “Red Wall” seats. So actually we would be better off with a Non-Tory MP, where a fearful government might pay some attention to East and Mid Devon for a change.
I hit 60 last November, and all my life I have been cautious about joining a national party. Where we live, I am really proud that we lead the council as an effective and kind coalition of East Devon Alliance Independents (EDA), LibDems, Greens and an Independent. I love the EDA, what it is continuing to achieve. We cannot stand nationally under our constitution, and that’s what we want.
But at a national level, it’s time for me to get off the fence. If not now, when? After 42 years as a voter, I’m finally nailing my colours to a national mast for Parliamentary elections, and have just become a member of the Liberal Democrats nationally. The time has come for me, and the time has come, if ever there was one, for this constituency to become Liberal Democrat too. If you are young, use the NHS, are a farmer or a rural enterprise, are retired, or are in desperate need of a home, the best future for the south west will be Orange not Blue. May the best team win.