It’s all kicking off in Calderdale as Liberal Democrats help oust Labour administration and win concessions from Conservatives

You would think, wouldn’t you, that if you were in a situation where you were running a minority administration that was dependent on the casting vote of the Mayor, you might be a bit more consensual in your approach to local government.

Not so the Labour party in Calderdale who, from this Storify compiled by Jennie Rigg, seem to feel some sort of entitlement to power. I cut my political teeth campaigning against Labour in the East Midlands so it’s no surprise that they think like that but it’s depressing that nothing has changed in 25 years.

In Calderdale, they projected some sort of humility in May, saying that they would work in a consensual manner and then proceeded with a controversial crossroads against the wishes of the local community.

In an angry Council meeting last night the Conservatives, backed by the six Liberal Democrat Councillors, moved a motion of no confidence, fed up at Labour’s style of government. This was passed by 24 votes to 22 and Labour lost power. From the BBC:

James Baker, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said councillors were left no choice but to vote Labour out. He said: “Labour were running a minority administration and they promised the people of Calderdale they would listen to the majority will of the council, that they would listen to the people of Calderdale over key issues. Unfortunately they have not done that.

“The only option we have under the cabinet system is to sack the leader and appoint a new one, and that’s what has happened tonight.”

From Liberal Democrat PPC Alisdair Calder McGregor’s tweets quoted in Jennie’s Storify it seems like they were actually claiming some sort of moral right to stay in office during the debate on the no-confidence motion.

The Conservatives will now form a majority administration but the Liberal Democrats will not enter into any formal coalition with them. The Calderdale Liberal Democrat website explains why and outlines the concessions that they have gained:

The Liberal Democrat group will not be entering into a Coalition with the Conservatives. We are our own party with our own agenda. We will support a Conservative and Independent coalition on a supply and demand basis. In return for our support of their administration as a group we have won a guarantee of the following.

·         The new administration implements the budget decisions from this year’s Annual Council Budget. Including the scrapping of evening parking charges in Halifax, and at car parks such as King Cross, Greetland & Stainland, Mytholmroyd and Todmorden.
·         There is a review of Neighbourhoods to include the possibility of setting up community hubs across Calderdale.
·         A Commitment that the Council will keep the Pellon Network Centre open and running.
·         Ensuring that the Council uses its powers under s215 of the Town and Country Planning Act to get owners/developers to tidy up derelict sites (eg the Hope St/Halifax Rd site in Todmorden).
We have also ensured the new administration will consider
·         Setting up a process where a petition of 1,000 local people can trigger a debate in Council (similar to that introduced by the Coalition Government at a national level).
·         Reviewing the Cabinet system to examiner whether the Committee system of governance would be a more effective way of representing residents views and running Calderdale Council.

This seems like a very shrewd strategic move by the Liberal Democrat group. They could not have formed a majority administration so it is sensible to stay at arm’s length and decide things on an issue by issue basis. It certainly seems the most effective way to get the voices of local people taken seriously. We shall have to wait and see whether the Conservatives stick to what they have said.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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27 Comments

  • Well, Tories are Tories, but they can’t be WORSE than Labour have been, and a couple of them are actually reasonable human beings, so… I guess we’ll see.

  • Alisdair McGregor 31st Jul '14 - 4:48pm

    ” it seems like they were actually claiming some sort of moral right to stay in office during the debate on the no-confidence motion”

    That’s exactly what they were doing. In between accusing everyone else in the room of “betrayal” – despite the fact that it was their decision to end the earlier Labour-LibDem coalition

    The sheer scale of of unpleasant language that Labour have been throwing around on Twitter after this is astounding. Take a look at some of the tweets people have been sending at me.

    You may also like to read Jennie Rigg’s take on how they are thinking at present: http://miss-s-b.dreamwidth.org/1536918.html

  • A Social Liberal 31st Jul '14 - 5:54pm

    Since you seem to be in the know, Alisdair – what was it exactly that forced the LIb Dems to vote against them in a vote of no confidence?

  • Little Jackie Paper 31st Jul '14 - 6:27pm

    Can someone explain quite why a crossroad was so controversial? Presumably there are not 46 councillors for the area with/without a crossroad?

  • Quick someone. Get Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander up to Calderdale to find out how to wring concessions from the Conservatives.

    Separately, the leader and his kitchen cabinet ignoring the clearly expressed wishes of the majority. I never heard of such a thing.

  • The Labour Cabinet were planning to put in compulsory purchase orders for a church, a pub, and various other buildings around the crossroads to widen it. Local residents were up in arms; the Labour Cabinet applied for (and won) funding from the DfT on the basis that the scheme was non-controversial despite a 2000 signature petition (almost all of the residents of the village the crossroads is in) being presented against the scheme. Scrutiny panel and various other attempts to stop the Labour cabinet steamrollering this through against the wishes of both the people of Calderdale and the democratically expressed will of full council had been attempted to no avail. The only option left was the nuclear one.

    Aside from Hipperholme crossroads, there were a number of other instances of Labour cabinet ignoring the expressed will of full council, notably in the agreed budget. Basically, everyone who wasn’t in Labour – Lib Dem, Tory and Independent alike – decided they had had enough of Labour behaving like a party with an unassailable majority and a mandate to do whatever they liked when they were actually in a minority administration.

  • Calderdale_Local 31st Jul '14 - 7:14pm

    Apparently the most amusing bit of the night was Cabinet member and wife of the Labour leader voting by putting both hands in the air. Obviously I’m not suggesting she was hoping that would be counted as two votes but it does suggest the plot had been lost quite seriously!

  • Why not scrap the Cabinet system and run by proportionate committees – no need to worry about joint administrations. Back in the days of Avon County Council we devised a three party “Administration ” which Labour opted out of until the subsequent Election confirmed the no overall control.

  • David Allen 1st Aug '14 - 1:13am

    We get a lot of these LDV “Labservatives go crazy in Little Wotting” articles. Invariably, before we can understand what is really going on, we have to wait for the responses from actual local people who actually know the real position. It is always much more complicated than the LDV official voiceperson has made it out to be.

    Often, the Labservatives don’t look quite so ev*l, and the Lib Dems don’t look quite as saintly, as LDV try to paint them.

    In this case, it does actually look as if Calderdale Labour have been even more “monumentally stupid” than LDV’s lead article claimed them to be. Therefore, I can (probably) get away with making this comment, on LDV’s website.

    Mind you, I do think this is a classic quote from Jennie:

    “Basically, everyone who wasn’t in (the biggest party)…– decided they had had enough of (the biggest party) behaving like a party with an unassailable majority and a mandate to do whatever they liked when they were actually in a minority administration.”

    Apply this to Westminster, please?

  • Alisdair McGregor 1st Aug '14 - 9:38am

    @ A Social Liberal

    Since the most recent elections Labour have done a whole bunch of things that various members from other parties (and the independent) disliked.

    For us, there’s the basic principle of democracy over Hipperholme Crossroads, their attempted closure of the Pellon Network Centre, their failure to clear up the derelict sites in Todmorden, the closure and demolition of Elland Baths, the issues with the Sowood Centre building, the general fire sale of council owned property… the list could go on.

    Basically, Labour had adopted the attitude that their decisions were akin to god, and nobody as allowed to scrutinize them (Cllr Collins, the now-former cabinet member of Economy & Environment basically refused to allow any scrutiny of the Hipperholme Crossroads decision, because “it was already a done deal”).

    They also (in the meeting on Wednesday where they were eventually defenestrated) said that if the Hipperholme works did not go ahead they were just going to pocket the money instead of it going back to the department of transport… which is just outright criminal IMO.

    There are many many other things that Labour have done to annoy everyone else – keeping local councillors in the dark, announcing policies by press release, removing local champions from positions of power in favour of pliant Labour stooges and so on.

    So everyone who wasn’t Labour finally had had enough, and decided to get shot of them. Hopefully it’ll teach the Labour Party some humility.

  • @MatGB
    “Jackie, 19 Tories, 6 LibDems (including the neutral mayor who’ll vote with the cabniet to break ties by tradition), 25 Labour and one Independent.”

    So if Labour had 50% of the councillors (excluding the neutral mayor) and control of the cabinet, shouldn’t they have expected said neutral mayor to vote with the cabinet and therefore give them de facto overall control?

    I’m not saying this arrangement is right or wrong – I don’t know enough about it – but from your description, that’s what the arrangement was, and if so it’s hardly surprising Labour should have been acting as if they had control. Or am I missing something here?

  • Alisdair McGregor
    “Cllr Collins, the now-former cabinet member of Economy & Environment basically refused to allow any scrutiny of the Hipperholme Crossroads decision, because ‘it was already a done deal'”

    This is presumably the same Cllr Collins who told the Huddersfield Daily Examiner two weeks ago: “This is in principle only… We will put everything back out to a thorough public consultation, there will be time for a discussion and comments about improving it as well.”

    So he seems to be saying one thing to you and something different to the media.

    Add in the fact that I’ve just read three or four very different versions of what land is subject to the CPO, most of them on LDV (is it a pub car park? Or a pub? Or a former pub?) and there seems to be a fog of confusion over Calderdale.

  • “it seems like they were actually claiming some sort of moral right to stay in office”

    Perhaps they’ve been listening to too many Nick Clegg speeches. Didn’t he say the party with the most seats and votes had “the moral right” to govern?

  • Alisdair McGregor 1st Aug '14 - 11:09am

    @Stuart – Yes, Cllr Collins told the media one thing and the scrutiny panel another. And then said a third thing in the Council Meeting where Labour were deposed.

  • Malcolm Todd 1st Aug '14 - 11:36am

    Stuart
    “Perhaps they’ve been listening to too many Nick Clegg speeches. Didn’t he say the party with the most seats and votes had “the moral right” to govern?”

    No, he didn’t.
    Hope that’s cleared it up for you.

  • David Allen 1st Aug '14 - 12:16pm

    Stuart,

    Your problem is that you’ve cited a statement by Clegg in 2010, when Clegg could reasonably guess that his favourite partner, the Tories, would gain the most votes. Clegg therefore uttered the dubious remarks you cite, to the effect that even if the Tories hadn’t actually won, Clegg was in some tenuous way morally bound to help them to cross the finishing line first.

    However, now it’s 2014, and Clegg can see that it might very well not be the Tories who gain the most votes and/or seats next year. Hence, Clegg has dropped all the guff about morality. He’s probably got a speech in his pocket about how important it is to maintain continuity, stick to the principles of austerity and sound finance, keep the Labour wreckers at bay, and join forces with the (Tory) party who came second, in defence of these high moral principles.

    He probably won’t want to deliver that speech until he sees the actual election result come through, though. If he were to give it now, he would be giving away the fact that he is a confirmed Tory ally, and he would give (even more of) the voters the chance to see him as he really is. That would never do.

  • Malcolm Todd 1st Aug '14 - 12:28pm

    Even more unfortunately (and has been pointed out ad nauseam before, which is why I knew exactly what Stuart was referring to), it doesn’t say what you both claim it does. Clegg said “self-evidently the party with the strongest mandate will have a moral right to be the first to seek to govern on its own “. That’s self-evidently not the same thing as a “moral right to govern”. Labour in Calderdale seem to have been given exactly what Clegg suggested (perhaps wrongly) they should be given: the chance to attempt to govern on their own. They failed, partly it seems because they didn’t understand the difference either.

  • @Malcolm Todd
    I’m well aware that Clegg’s comment is ultimately meaningless, and I am actually one of those people you mention who has pointed it out ad nauseum on LDV before. I just thought it was worth referring to it given the shock and outrage Caron and Alisdair seem to feel at the idea that Labour (with 49% of the seats – 12% more than their nearest rival) should feel hard done by at being booted out of office.

    Clegg actually went in to slightly more detail on this (while not quite shedding his usual air of ambiguity) the day after the election :-

    https://www.libdemvoice.org/nick-clegg-speaks-up-to-tories-to-seek-to-form-government-19371.html

    “I’ve also said that whichever party gets the most votes and the most seats, if not an absolute majority, has the first right to seek to govern, either on its own or by reaching out to other parties. And I stick to that view. It seems this morning that it’s the Conservative party that had more votes and more seats but not an absolute majority. And that is why I think it is now for the Conservative party to prove that it is capable of seeking to govern in the national interest.

    Of course this is highly subjective, but it appears that in this case, Labour lose Clegg’s “moral right” to govern in Calderdale when they prove incapable of governing in the local interest.

    Having looked at the crossroads in question on Google Streetview, it’s interesting to note that the pub (or former pub according to some sources) subject to this controversial CPO is actually joined on to the newsagent’s shop belonging to the independent councillor whose crucial vote has deposed the previous council.

    I have no idea whether Calderdale residents as a whole share the view that the council was not governing in their interest and should be changed, or whether this is simply a case of Tories and Lib Dems taking a freakishly serendipitous opportunity to team up with an independent councillor with an extreme personal interest in what happens to a disused pub. Whatever, it all makes for a highly entertaining little political soap opera.

  • Stephen Hesketh 1st Aug '14 - 1:04pm

    @David Allen1st Aug ’14 – 12:16pm

    Much truth here I believe.

  • David Allen 1st Aug '14 - 1:20pm

    Malcolm,

    I think Clegg made a deliberately ambiguous statement, so it is a bit of a moot point what one can “claim” that it “says”.

    The first bit of ambiguity comes with those words “strongest mandate”, which was generally interpreted in 2010 as “most votes” rather than “most seats”. However, Clegg had clearly left himself some wiggle room (not necessarily a terribly reprehensible thing in itself, given the nature of coalition bargaining).

    The second bit is the one you highlighted, “moral right to be the first to seek to govern on its own”. Unfortunately, you curtailed the quotation: the full version is “a moral right to be the first to seek to govern on its own or, if it chooses, to seek alliances with other parties.” So, Clegg did have coalition in his sights, but was being a little coy about making that clear.

    As you point out, that isn’t – in principle – a cut-and-dried decision to favour one side. On the other hand, it isn’t all-options-open either. It is something in between, and quite what that is is not defined. Clegg has left himself a lot of wiggle room.

    The benign view would be that Clegg just didn’t want to circumscribe his options too much. My view was that he had already deliberately begun to circumscribe his options, in a quite unnecessary way, in order to help the idea of a coalition with the Tories. Now, had Clegg made a stronger statement, such as “LDs will definitely work with whoever has the strongest mandate”, commentators would have smelled a rat, and would have siad “you’re a crypto-Tory, aren’t you!” Clegg didn’t want that, so he settled for the weaker statement that he did make. As it turned out, it was stong enough (alongside the arithmetic) to fend off those who wanted an alliance with Labour. It was ambiguous, but it was nevertheless a strong enough statement to take Clegg where he wanted to go. Stuart at 1.00 pm has helpfully quoted Clegg on post-election day developing his statement to move closer toward the Tory coalition.

    Tactically, the best approach is to leave all options open, thereby maximising what you can gain in coalition negotiation by playing off one side against the other. Previous Lib Dem leaders have generally done that. Clegg doesn’t, because he favours one side.

  • And, to be honest, would anyone want a party to govern if they failed to understand that to do so, you need to keep your majority happy? Sure, Raistrick probably wouldn’t have been able to vote on the crossroads scheme, but doing that would be running a council for nine months and desperately hoping that there was not one confidence vote.

    Then again, Labour don’t seem to have learnt the lesson they were served 35 years ago when it comes to not pissing off your majority.

  • @Sarah Noble
    “And, to be honest, would anyone want a party to govern if they failed to understand that to do so, you need to keep your majority happy?”

    Sarah, in the elections less than three months ago, Labour won 9 of the 17 seats on offer, a figure which included 5 gains. 5 gains out of 17 seats does not sound to me like they are annoying the majority. This has nothing to do with the wishes of the majority – it’s to do with a small minority abusing their power to remove the party that received by far the greatest endorsement at the ballot box less than three months ago.

    If any party annoyed the majority it would appear to be the Lib Dems, who lost 6 of the 7 seats they defended in May. The Lib Dems’ actions here are anti-democratic.

  • The incontrovertible fact is that Labour, by themselves, do not have a majority. They actively refused our support when they became the largest party, leading to the Tories propping them up when it came to installing a leadership. Since May, they’ve been entirely dependent on Colin Raistrick to stay in power. And with trying to push Hipperholme through, they lost his support.

    This is a lesson Labour should have learnt on March 28th, 1979, but their reaction to the national coalition, and thinking they had the god given right to rule, suggests otherwise. They may need to learn quickly, especially as they’re not really far ahead enough to gain a workable majority next year.

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