Labour kicked out in Calderdale: The inside story

Calderdale CouncilThis week the Liberal Democrat group on Calderdale Council came to the decision to vote out the minority Labour administration, and vote in a minority coalition of the Conservatives and Independent Councillor. Allow me to explain why.

From 2010 we had worked in a fairly successful Coalition with the Labour party. We didn’t shut a single sure start centre or library, we opened up cabinet meetings with a public question time, and we had the highest recycling rate in West Yorkshire.

As that coalition went on it became increasingly apparent Labour wanted to control the Council alone, and to ignore the wishes of the other parties. It was harder and harder to work with them as continued to propose political motions that did little for local people, but did a lot of party point scoring. Finally last year they managed to secure the support of the Conservatives who abstained at the right votes in return for some scrutiny chairs, and Labour got their wish of a minority administration.

Since then things have been going downhill for the Labour party. Having got power they quickly expanded the number of cabinet posts, and adopted a secretive budget process that cut out other parties. The result of their increasingly autocratic attitude was that they lost key votes at this year’s budget Council. Despite not being able to get their own budget through Council, they decided to plough and promised to implement the compromised budget that was agreed upon.

Following the elections in May the Council was still in no overall control. The balance is 25 Labour, 19 Conservatives, 6 Lib Dems and 1 Independent. Given the independent holds balance of power, it might have been wise for Labour to avoid coming up with a road scheme that involved bulldozing right across his shop. In a bit of inept political judgement they did just that. Not only had Labour managed to come up with a controversial road scheme to annoy the person who held balance of power (and a few thousand local residents), they also decided not to implement the wishes of budget Council and decided to revert back to their own controversial parking plans. This attitude was bound not to endear the opposition groups to their administration.

Following two scrutiny call-in meetings where Labour made it very clear they were going to push ahead despite not having the support of the other parties (or people of Calderdale) both the Conservatives, Lib Demss and the Independent Councillor had simply had enough of their autocratic, controlling and secretive administration. An emergency motion to replace the leader of the Council was put forward. We agreed to support a newly formed Conservative and Independent coalition on a confidence and supply basis. We are not in a coalition with the Conservatives, we are not bound to support any topic they bring forward. We have our own identity, and we have our own agenda.

We have won a key set of commitments on issues that matter to local people in return for our current support. A community centre has been saved, derelict sites that plague part of the borough will be sorted out and we have promises that the new administration will work to improve the broken democratic system in Caldedale.

This broken democratic system is the real tale of Calderdale Council.  Under the cabinet system what can you do when a minority administration ignores the will of full Council other than sack the leader? As a local party we think the Cabinet system is broken, particularly for Councils where no party has overall control. At our local policy day our members decided we should push to bring back the committee system, introduce measures such as webcasting meetings, and a process whereby sufficiently large petitions will trigger debates in the Council chamber. We are committed to pursuing these measures and  making Calderdale Council a more democratic, open and transparent institution.

Our official statement on why we could no longer support Labour’s minority administration is available to read on our website. 

* Cllr James Baker is the leader of Calderdale Liberal Democrats and the Campaigns and grassroots activism manager for the Open Rights Group.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Peter Watson 1st Aug '14 - 10:02am

    It appears that there were many problems with the poor Labour administration (aided and abetted by Conservatives), but despite all that, the reason for finally kicking out Labour came down to one individual, who happened to be a councillor, having his shop threatened. That does not sound very democratic.

  • Really interesting – thank you. One thing we’ve learnt (also in NOC) is that the Cabinet system works well when there is an overall majority, and allows an administration’s plans to be worked out well. In particular, opposition councillors know that they have to persuade the administration of anything they want to get through, and it can lead to better relations between the groups.

    In NOC, the administration has authority over many areas which don’t have the support of full council. The only nuclear options available are to scrap the committee system (not quick) or to sack the administration (quick.) There’s very little awareness of just how much power the administration have in an NOC council, and how little full council has. Although full council has to set the budget / council tax, the administration then have authority to vary it, with the power to over-rule scrutiny.

    I’d be grateful for a follow-up post in a few months to hear how this is going in Calderdale once the honeymoon period has expired. Good luck.

  • Calderdale_Local 1st Aug '14 - 10:38am

    Had the Labour team in Calder Valley actually delivered then Labour would have been in control comfortably. Instead the Tories gained two seats in wards won by Labour in 2012 and outpolled Labour across the constituency. Not exactly stellar stuff from Josh Fenton-Glynn in a top tier Labour target seat.

  • James Baker 1st Aug '14 - 12:00pm

    @Peter I would agree if the independent hadn’t been elected on a mandate of opposing the controversial road scheme, and there wasn’t also a petition from at least 2,000 local residents. It’s the issue that mattered to him. For us the concerns were also the failure to implement the budget Council agreements, and the secretive nature Labour had adopted. For example our Ward Councillors were only finding out about things from press releases, and being told to ‘wait until the press release is issued’.

  • As a contrast to the “Executive doesn’t work in NOC”, it has been working well in Stockport now for 3 years. The difference, perhaps, is that we are taking a Lib Dem approach to things and being very open and inclusive. It is hard work, trailing things through Scrutiny ahead of decisions being taken; joint meetings involving opposition leaders or members; etc. But the alternatives are dictatorship or the council running in neutral.

  • “Calderdale_Local” writes:

    “Had the Labour team in Calder Valley actually delivered then Labour would have been in control comfortably. Instead the Tories gained two seats in wards won by Labour in 2012 and outpolled Labour across the constituency.”

    Nice spin, but in Calderdale as a whole, Labour gained five seats in May’s election (four from the Lib Dems, one from the Tories). They did not lose any seats.

    The Tories won two seats from the Lib Dems and one from an independent, but lost one to Labour.

    Net result:
    Labour +5
    Tories +2
    Lib Dems -6
    Independents -1

    And needless to say, Labour won more votes than anyone else across the borough.

    These results make the Lib Dems’ decision to bring down the Labour administration seem all the more anti-democratic and opportunistic.

  • paul barker 1st Aug '14 - 8:10pm

    I think this foreshadows possible difficulties with a Labour/Libdem Coalition next year. Its hard for people who have never been Labour members & dont come from a Labour background to understand their culture. Both Labour & most Unions see themselves as “Repesenting The Working Class”, an ill-defined group that can easily be seen as including almost everybody. In Labour heads they already are “The People”, when they win Elections thats just a confirmation of the obvious & when they lose its the result of lies or trickery .
    I fear that any Coalition with Labour would soon turn very nasty.

  • Tony Dawson 2nd Aug '14 - 9:35am


    “These results make the Lib Dems’ decision to bring down the Labour administration seem all the more anti-democratic and opportunistic.”

    A Party which does not have a majority (even if you accept fptp) does not have a right to rule (as opposed to govern with others).

    You appear to have ignored the fact that the Party led by the former Lib Dem apprentice didn’t even get as many votes as the Tories in Calderdale last year.

  • Nigel Jones 2nd Aug '14 - 11:40am

    Thanks James for this information about Calderdale. I am sure we can all identify with the appalling attitude of so many Labour councillors. After 6 yrs in coalition with the Conservatives, we had Labour take over in 2012 and they were quite explicit about the council always belonging to them and that it was their inherent right to be always in control; their leaflets are almost always the worst in the language they use against others and their gross distortions of the truth.
    As a young man I moved my support from Labour to Liberal for policy and national reasons, but the kind of behaviour you describe has been another reason why I have never wanted to switch back to Labour; that remains my feeling, in spite of my great disagreements with some of the Coalition decisions and my great disappointment with Nick Clegg.

  • Mick Taylor 2nd Aug '14 - 5:20pm

    There seems to be a sense in all this that Lib Dems still need to apologise when they boot Labour out or don’t act as Labour’s second team. That’s a load of hogwash.
    Labour in local government are arrogant, totally against any real public consultation and call anyone who disagrees with them traitors or worse. Actually Calderdale Labour are not as bad as Leeds Labour, but that’s another story. We have no role locally or nationally supporting Labour just because they’re Labour. If that was our role we’d have all joined the Labour Party. Any coalition or confidence and supply agreement must benefit the people it affects. In Calderdale Labour had shown they are unfit to run the council and had to go. If the Conservatives don’t stick to the agreement we have made with them then we will have to withdraw our support.
    As a former Calderdale councillor for 22 years I have no love for the Calderdale Conservatives nor their leader Stephen Baines. It is a sad fact that they are probably more likely to stick to their word than the Labour group led by the former Lib Dem Tim Swift, who wouldn’t know the truth if it hit him in the face.

  • Julian Tisi 5th Aug '14 - 10:55am

    I agree with Mick Taylor. The only thing that makes me feel slightly uncomfortable about what the Lib Dem Group on Calderdale Council has done is to say “The Liberal Democrat group will not be entering into a Coalition with the Conservatives. We are our own party with our own agenda.” as if one automatically follows from the other. Clearly there’s a feeling that forming a coalition with Labour as they did in 2010 was OK but forming any coalition with the Conservatives is never OK. This is utter hogwash, and for the reasons Mick mentions.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • James Fowler
    If we make appreciable gains at this election, and it seems that we will, what are we going to do with them? At the moment not being the Tories is enough, b...
  • Martin Gray
    Simple Mick ...You as a British citizen are not allowed to vote in Greece's national elections. Unless that right is reciprocated why would should any Greek n...
  • Mick Taylor
    EU citizens, like me, can vote in local and EU elections in an EU country where they reside, but many are also registered in the UK, where they can vote in all ...
  • David Raw
    @ Gordon. I’m afraid you are very much mistaken if you believe the British government did not confiscate German assets in WW11....
  • Gordon
    “But confiscating Russian assets… would also break international law.” Exactly so. It breaks international law because it’s theft. Hence,...