Another Tory Councillor jumps ship in York

4:00pm deadline  today for Council election nominations

As we forecast a couple of weeks ago, relationships within the Conservative party n York have hit a new low. It has been confirmed that a fourth former member of the Tory group will join 3 others in standing as “independents” in the Council election on 2nd May. The latest Councillor to jump ship (be pushed) is Haxby Councillor Tony Richardson who describes the local Tory Group as “toxic”. He joins John Galvin, Suzie Mercer and David Carr as former Tories now turned independent candidates.

Tory Leader Ian Gillies has already announced that he is standing down from the Council and he is expected to be joined by Sam Lisle and Helen Douglas when the candidate lists are announced at 4:00pm today.  

Thus, of 14 people originally elected as Conservatives in May 2015, no more than 7 will seek re-election.

The Tories do hope to bring back Sian Wiseman in the Strensall Ward. She was a Councillor between 2007 and 2011 but herself quit the Tory group, to sit for a time as an independent, following a possible conflict of interest row relating to the Local Plan.

Sceptics may think that the “Gang of Four” will have a better chance of success standing as Independents given the parlous state of the Tory party regionally and nationally. Tory Police and Crime Chief Julia Mulligan has also announced that she is quitting while the BREXIT turmoil is taking its inevitable toll on opinion poll ratings.

Incredibly, the controversial Tony Richardson was until this week the deputy Leader of the Conservative Group. That mantle has now passed to the photogenic, but largely ineffectual, Stuart Rawlings. He is the potential replacement for Ian Gillies as Leader of the Conservatives after the May poll.

It seems increasingly unlikely that there will be a Tory presence on the Council to lead. They were wiped out in 2003 and as similar fate may await their candidates this May.

Labour has already been through a similar pre-election turmoil with 3 of the 15 Councillors elected in May 2015 having already quit.

2 more now sit as independents.

Whatever happens on May 2nd, the City can’t look to the traditionally larger parties to provide stability and experience in what is likely to be a difficult year for the City.

A week’s a long time in …York

The decision by York Tory Councillors to ditch the Council Leader last week wasn’t entirely unexpected. Cllr Carr blundered in the summer when he unilaterally sacked two LibDem members of the Executive. At the time the local standards board had not had the opportunity to investigate the allegations that had been made against them.

The arbitrary action set a precedent, so when a Tory Executive Councillor was accused of failing to declare a pecuniary interest in the Local Plan, the Council Leader had little option to sack him as well.

Whether any of the three have committed any offence has yet to be determined, although the Police have said there is nothing to investigate in the case of the two LibDems.

So where does that leave the York Council?

Cllr Ian Gillies is expected to be installed as the new Council Leader on 22nd February.

He will be the fifth Council Leader that York has had in just over 4 years (Alexander, Williams, Steward, Carr, Gillies).

That is frankly a ridiculous rate of attrition and is damaging not only to relationship within the City but also to York’s reputation at regional and national level.

It takes a new Leader – no matter how experienced – at least 18 months to establish good working relationship both within and outside the Council. Only then can the real work begin.

Cllr Gillies starts with the advantage of being well known in the City. He has a recent successful year as Lord Mayor behind him. He was a major influence in the years between 2007 – 2011 when the Council was also balanced. His view then was that the City should come above politics. He tried the same approach when Labour had an overall majority, facing some criticism from his own side in 2013 when it was becoming clear that the Alexander regime was doomed.

But with scarcely 15 months to go before the next “all out” Council elections, Cllr Gillies effectively faces a damage limitation challenge. Whether he will even be able to repair relations with the LibDems remains to be seen.

So why have things gone so badly wrong over the last few years?

It is mainly a system problem. All out four yearly elections tend to promote a rapid turn over of Councillors.  Fewer these days seem to survive for the 10 years or necessary to build the experience necessary for high office.

Recently few have been able to muster more than 4 years’ experience when they became Leader. Cllr Carr set a record, for inexperience, though, taking the most demanding job at West Offices scarcely 18 months after he was first elected.

Annual elections – where a third of the Council is up for re-election each year – would avoid the extreme shifts in support which usually reflect short term disillusion with whichever party is in power nationally.

The other system failure is the Leader model itself.

The model gives substantial powers – including on the spot “hire and fire” arrangements of the executive committee – to one individual. Effectively if Executive councillors don’t follow his or her instructions then an excuse is found to sack them.

The system simply doesn’t work on a balanced Council. Here the subtleties of discourse and compromise are needed to move forward. Unilateral action by an individual simply promotes mistrust.

There is a warning here for those seeking a Yorkshire Mayor. If she or he chooses to, then they could spend 4 or 5 years completely ignoring the wishes of residents, while pursuing policies based on a fundamentalist ideology or sectional interest.

Recent events are likely to lead to a call for the reintroduction of the “committee system” at Council level. Here all issues are debated openly by committees which reflect the overall political balance of the Council.

It promotes openness and consensus decision making.

It won’t come quickly but perhaps by 2019 electors will be ready to accept that the present system simply isn’t working in York.


“Stay away” Tory leads to defeat on Willow House development

Willow House

The local Council Tory Leadership suffered a defeat this evening when their plan ot sell off land at Willow House was referred back for further consideration.

It is understood that one Conservative councillor absented himself from the meeting without appointing a substitute. (He was apparently elsewhere in West Offices when the meeting was taking place)

The result was that a vote on a “call in” was tied and the Labour chair used his casting vote to stall the development.

There are likely to be repercussions for the Council as the sale of the former elderly persons home site for development was needed to fund new elderly care homes.

The main concern apparently centred around an area of open space next to the home which would have been developed for the first time. Locals say that it is used for informal recreational activity.

There are several other controversial plans in the pipeline which would see similar open spaces developed. In the Acomb ward the development of the old Manor school playing field has been criticised while there is also a major campaign to save threatened open space at Lowfields.

The called in decision will now be referred back to the Executive who will have to decide whether to re-advertise the site for sale and, if so,  with what conditions. Further delays to the care programme seem inevitable.

The disagreement within the Tories is the latest in signs of unrest with Council Leader David Carr heavily criticised  since unilaterally sacking two executive members and later resisting publication of a report into contractor appointments.

Other projects such as the, Tory backed, shipping container village on Piccadilly and arrangements to sign the final Community Stadium contract are also mired in controversy.

York Council gets fourth new Leader in less than 2 years

Anyone who knows the pressures of Leading the York Council will sympathise with Chris Steward who is stepping down from the post after only 12 months. We hope that he will get over his health problems quickly.

Experience is a vital commodity in any leader and, as James Alexander, Daffydd Williams and now Chris Steward found, pressures are easier to cope with if intuitive reactions are rooted in a good knowledge of the City, its customs and its people.

leadership-clipboardThe Leadership of the York Council is now very much a 24/7 commitment. As we commented 12 months ago, those holding high office in the City will not have time for second jobs.

Here the Conservative’s new choice of Leader (David Carr a Councillor from Copmanthorpe) may have an advantage as he is retired.

However he has only 12 months experience on the Council – far too little to be able to “hit the ground running“.  To this must be added to his poor record with the housing portfolio which he has held since last May. Standards on the estates have declined under his watch and controversial proposals have been launched without proper consultation.

York will expect much better from its new Leader. 

There were two other Councillors in the Tory Group with a long record of service. One wonders why they were passed over?

The need now, though, is for a period of stability

We will understand quickly the calibre of the new leadership team at the Council (a new Chief Executive is also being appointed). Major decisions have to be made on the Green Belt, the community stadium/swimming pool, the future of the Guildhall, financing options for York Central and on many other issues.

The Council will also have to act decisively to address its crumbling reputation on transparency and respect for citizens.

A tall order for the new leadership


Conservatives NOT to target win in York Central fight

A leaked list of “non target” seats by Conservative Central Office reveals that they are not targeting a win in York Central.

Boost for local candidate Nick Love

Boost for local candidate Nick Love

At the last general election the Tories were neck and neck with the LibDems with both parties needing to persuade only around 3500 Labour voters to change sides to achieve a victory.

Since then, Labour in York have been overwhelmed by controversy and the sitting MP has announced that he is standing down. Only 3 months before the poll, Labour have still to announce who their candidate will be.

Some eyebrows were raised a few months ago when the Conservatives selected a London based man to be their candidate.

It seems that the local Tories have decided to concentrate their resources on holding the York Outer seat

The Tory move leaves the way open for Liberal Democrat and  local man Nick Love (@NickLovesYork) to establish himself as the main non-left ballot paper option.

A full list of the seats which the Tories don’t think they can win can be accessed by clicking here

2010 General Election result




Councillor Bleep in line for planning role in York

Following the black farce which unwrapped the last time the York Councils “Urgency” committee met, there seems to be some hope that the forces of darkness will be defeated at the resumed meeting now scheduled for the 19th January.

GimliOfficials are suggesting that committee membership should be reflect the proportion of seats held by each group represented on the Council.

Hardly a radical suggestion as proportionality has been a guiding principal for the York Council for the last 25 years.

It means that the much maligned Cllr Healey will become a member of the Local Plan Working group in place of Cllr Watt (who has apparently joined the Mordor tree preservation Group)

Cllr “bleep” deleted from York Council webcast


Yesterdays webcast of the Council Urgency committee meeting has now reappeared on line (click).

Voroshilov,_Molotov,_Stalin,_with_Nikolai_YezhovUsually we associated early 20th century Soviet Union regimes with air brushing dissidents from photos.

Now, in a bizarre twist, any mention of Councillors allegedly under investigation for misbehaviour, have been “bleeped” out of the video.

In theory it means that only those present at the meeting and those viewing the original transmission know who Labour Councillors sought to publicly vilify and who was mentioned in the Tory response (about 10 minutes into the meeting).

Comrade Williams airbrushed from history

Comrade Williams airbrushed from history

Of course. though, even a casual glance at the agenda papers will reveal who was being talked about.

It is an awkward shambles with no one publicly yet taking responsibility for the censorship. much less the original ill judged comments.

Another Tory Councillor formally resigns in York

As we predicted last week, following his sacking from a key planning committee, Skelton Councillor Joe Watt has apparently now quit the local Conservative Council group.

He will sit as an Independent.Changing sides

He is the second Conservative Councillor to take this route following the decision of Cllr Sian Wiseman who quit to became an Independent 18 months ago.

Ironically it was the Labour Councils “Big City” Local Plan which prompted both resignations.

There has never, in modern times, been more Councillors “crossing the floor” of the York Council chamber than during the last 4 years.

Labour started in 2011 with 26 Councillors but have seen defections, and an election defeat to the LibDems, reduce that figure by 5

The concern is that the resulting instability may lead to indecision as the City stuggles to take full advantage of the economic recovery.

Only the LibDem (9 Councillors) and Green groups (2 members) have remained united.

The Council’s web site has already been updated to show Cllr Watt’s defection.

The number of Councillors in each Group on the Council is now

  • Labour 21
  • Lib Dem 9
  • Conservative 9
  • Independent 4
  • Green 2
  • Labour Independent 2

NB. We understand that Cllr Watt had already been “deselected” as a candidate for the May Council elections. Another source within the Tory Group says that Joe didn’t apply to be a candidate.

Protests over lap dancing club licence in York

Over 100 protestors  assembled last week to oppose the renewal of a lap dancing clubs licence in York.

The club operator Andrew Whitney – who stood unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in the Heworth Ward by election in 2009 – said that failure to renew the license would result in 40 lap dancers losing their jobs.

Most of the protesters were friends and relatives of the dancers. They claimed that the girls were being politically harassed during their work stints, and that this amounted to a cruel and unusual punishment.

Vote Tory ban red

One visitor to the club was Ann “the knife” Mac (not her real name) who was auditioning following losing her North Yorkshire job.

On leaving the club after her interview she commented , “ What relevance my views on the Common Agricultural Policy have for this job I’m not sure. However it makes a change from endless discussions about the impact that Bulgarian sheep imports are having on the Thirsk economy”.

Anther dancer Pneumatic Nell (her real name), revealed what went on in the club.

“ I first realised the club was different when, shortly after starting a dance for a customer, Andy came up to me and asked me to sign a petition which sought an immediate referendum on EC membership”.

“On another occasion Andy shouted out  “Keynes is dead”. I though he meant that my customer had had a heart attack but it turned out he just wanted to emphasise the importance of monetary policy to the UK economy”.

“ I’m now planning to have what the Leader of the Council calls a community conversation.

After the dance, I’ll ask him what he intends to do to clean up York politics”