Paul Arnott: ‘The current Tories nationally and locally are a risk to democracy’

I wonder how many people talking with friends and family hesitate for a second before putting a date on something. The Covid years, quite apart from being tragically fatal for many in East Devon, and the cause of awful pain for their families, seem to have been collectively somewhat forgotten, a fracture in the time continuum.

Last weekend, I was in London for the first time in a while and stayed at one of my children’s flats. I said how lovely it was to be there after more than a year and she reminded me that I last slept there in March 2020 the week before the first lockdowns began. Indeed, both trips were to see my ailing football team, Charlton, and in 2020 they were a whole division higher.

When it comes to being leader of EDDC, however, I can just about recall things to the day. I well remember us being asked at that time to underwrite what became about £1.3 million to keep our LED leisure service afloat. Chancellor Sunak implied that he’d cover all such losses. In the end he decided to cover about 85% of the losses of “insourced” leisure operations, while the “outsourced ones” – such as the one we were bequeathed by the East Devon Tories who lost the council 2019 – were sent cheques for a tiny fraction.

Therefore, we have had to spend the last three years asking the government to “level up” this inequality. We fought hard to make sure that the massive hole in the council’s finances didn’t come at the loss of any services, but it’s been a struggle. Perhaps with district elections around the corner, Chancellor Hunt will be persuaded by Simon Jupp MP to settle his bill nearly a third of a decade late. Mr Jupp had his photo taken at one of our pools last week, so let’s hope so. Better late than never.

I always worry at this point that someone will fling their paper/phone/laptop across the room saying, “he’s having a go at the Conservatives again”. My standard response is that I have always had Conservative friends, but that nationally and locally the current batch are a risk to democracy.

I am not alone in this. Last week, one of those Conservatives who I would consider a warm acquaintance at the least, Cllr Mike Howe, had enough. I was aware of his disappointment in his party for many years, but he’d courageously gone by the maxim of trying to fix it from the inside. I respect that. Last Tory week’s display at one of our full council meetings was the last straw.

Mike has been quoted as follows: “I’ve just had enough, and last night’s full council just pushed me over the edge. I need to do what I can for my ward and the district as a whole. And I feel the best place to do that is not the Conservative party locally. I think the party was wrong from start to finish last night, and it just gets to the point where you can’t defend the indefensible.”

Mike hasn’t “defected” or sought any gain out of this; he’s just done the right thing and will be an independent for the rest of his term.

Please remember this as you consider your votes for District in a couple of months’ time. My administration which is a cordial blend of Independent councillors, LibDems and Greens, has been exactly the kind of local government from the centre, without doctrine, which I believe the country wants everywhere. We’d like to do it build on the work after May if you’d be kind enough to vote for it.

Meanwhile, local Cons will be leafletting you to “defend the indefensible”. Prepare for some inversions of the truth ahead.

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