‘Why I’m standing as a Lib Dem in the local elections’ – Paul Arnott

For Owl’s comment see this post.

Spring has sprung and, as happens every four years in East Devon, the month after Easter will see innocent citizens subjected to campaigning from hopeful candidates in parish, town and district elections.

Paul Arnott, leader of East Devon District Council www.midweekherald.co.uk 

Next week we enter the ‘pre-election period’. This means that any readers who rush to read this column, or to tear it out to line a litter tray, will be disappointed. In the interests of balance, I must sign out until after the elections.

Indeed, it is always possible that I am neither re-elected a councillor here in Coly Valley, nor that anyone will want me to be Leader after May. This may be less au revoir and more Goodnight Vienna. However, after about 130 articles in recent years, or 85,000 words – all unpaid I should add, the length of a novel – this is the end of Book One.

Some have moaned about the articles, but I have done my best to share East Devon matters without too much of a po face. Which leaves me about 400 words to put the argument for voting for my group of councillors in May.

To begin at the beginning, in 2019 only 19 of the 60 councillors elected were Tory. Somewhat weirdly, the new Leader in 2019 (then an ‘Independent’, now the deputy Tory Leader!) and the outgoing Leader (the Tory Leader before the election, then an ‘Independent’!) formed a business-as-usual Cabinet with the support of the 19 Tories. As tends to happen in these situations, that Cabinet collapsed less than a year later, and the rest of us who’d watched on quietly formed a new one.

So, for the last three years East Devon has been run by an incredibly friendly administration of Independents, LibDems and Greens. It’s been a down the centre, progressive council, of the type the whole country seems to want but the daft electoral system seems never to come up with. It was called the ‘Democratic Alliance’.

Straight out of the blocks we dealt with two Tory legacies – the officer-dominated Greater Exeter Strategic Plan with its huge democratic deficiencies – and the bonkers way in which a single officer was given a £20 million fighting fund to initiate questionable investments across the country to bolster EDDC finances. These schemes were notorious – and we stopped them instantly.

We then dealt with other Tory legacy issues such as their neglect of both public toilets and car parks policy. We reset the whole framework for discussions around seaside towns, work still in progress, including major sea defence projects. To drive the local economy forward we invented new Tourism and Culture strategies in which hundreds of businesses and organisations are now engaged. During and after Covid 19 we ran local funding strategies for thousands – from businesses to those in poverty – and hit sixes around the ground in Environmental policy too.

As for the bottom line, we are the ONLY district council in Devon to balance its books this year without a major dip into reserves, something no Devon Tory council has managed. That is a huge tribute to our careful and outstanding work with council officers. In 2023 we have the foundations to be the best run local democracy in the country.

The historic election of Richard Foord as MP last summer proves that Tory East Devon is sinking into the sunset. Having publicly supported Richard during that election, I must be consistent now and will stand as a Lib Dem this May too. I believe the district wants a non-Tory administration for many years to come and for me this is the best way I can help to secure that.