Mansbridge Survives Unprecedented Challenge To His Council Leadership
The leader of the Conservative group at Guildford Borough Council (GBC) faced an unprecedented challenge to his appointment as council leader this evening (May 19).
Cllr Caroline Reeves
Stephen Mansbridge (Ash South & Tongham) was challenged by the leader of the Liberal Democrat group, Caroline Reeves (Friary & St Nicolas).
Normally the protocol is that the opposition groups readily accede to the choice of the majority group on the council but this time, according to David Goodwin (Lib Dem, Onslow), their group felt that they had to “make a point.”
Their challenge was supported by the three Guildford Greenbelt Group members led by Susan Parker (Send) and the sole surviving Labour member Angela Gunning (Stoke).
Cllr Jenny Wicks – abstained
Eventually, Cllr Mansbridge easily defeated the challenge by 31 votes to 12.
All the opposition councillors from the Lib Dem and GGG groups as well as the sole remaining Labour member, Angela Gunning, (Stoke) joined forces to support the challenge but two Tories abstained, Cllrs Jenny Wicks and Matthew Sarti who both represent Clandon & Horsley.
One Lib Dem member was heard to comment: “They would get lynched if they went back to their ward having voted for Mansbridge.” The two councillors themselves declined to comment.
Although it was clear from the outset that Cllr Mansbridge would win the vote, the challenge allowed a debate on his appointment. The council heard several voices of disquiet as well as those of support for his leadership.
Cllr Matthew Sarti – abstained.
Liz Hogger (Lib Dem, Effingham) proposing Cllr Reeves said: “The last year has been traumatic for this council. Under the leadership of Cllr Mansbridge we have seen a chaotic attempt to prepare a Draft Local Plan which was put out for consultation when it clearly wasn’t ready.
“In the last year too we have seen the criminal prosecution of the former lead councillor who was responsible for that Local Plan and who has now pleaded guilty to five charges. I think that the appointment of Monika Juneja to that role, and all that has followed since then, calls into question Cllr Mansbridge’s judgement and threatens to bring our council into disrepute.
“So I believe we now need a new council leader who will restore the reputation of this council for probity and will ensure that a sound Local Plan is brought forward that is fair to all the communities in this borough.
“If the Conservatives had proposed that new council leader this time the Liberal Democrats would have accepted that their majority gave them the right to propose that leader and we would have sought to work with them to correct the flaws in the previous Draft Local Plan. We regret that that has not happened and we therefore offer the council a different choice.”
Cllr Tony Rooth, (Con, Tillingbourne), a former council leader unseated by Cllr Mansbridge in 2012, who has now been re-appointed to the Executive said: “Some of the debate both inside and outside this chamber has been unfortunately focussed upon personalities, and one personality in particular.
“As far as the issues that were raised in relation to the previous councillor Juneja, as I understand it, these related to her professional standing and her qualifications.
“But, as far as I can see, they are completely irrelevant to the governance and indeed the actions of this local authority. What your professional qualifications are for your job… are not relevant to the working of this borough council.
“As far as the Local Plan is concerned it is an extremely difficult issue for many people in this borough, those who need housing and perhaps those who don’t necessarily see the need.
“As a formal leader the council all I would say is that Cllr Mansbridge has led a very good administration and I have every confidence the next one will be too. And that is why I would support him.”
Susan Parker (GGG, Send) in her first contribution as a councillor at Millmead, said: “I think it significant that Cllr Mansbridge’s agenda for change was not supported by a very significant proportion of the electorate.
“It is interesting also that most of the Conservative members sitting in this chamber will recognise that the proportion of the national swing is not actually replicated in this borough.
“It is worth noting that those Conservatives who campaigned on an agenda of protecting the green belt should recall that they were not elected to support that agenda for change, for a corporate plan that had never been subject to any consultation whatsoever. Therefore we have enormous pleasure in supporting the nomination of Councillor Reeves”
David Wright, (Con, Tillingbourne responded: “We are already well used to the mischievous series of allegations that have typified the contribution of the Greenbelt Group to political debate in this council for the last year and a half. Many of these allegations and comments are quite easy to make and easy to justify on the doorstep when you are talking to someone who doesn’t know.”
Accepting the appointment as council leader, Stephen Mansbridge said: “Thank you to the council for my appointment… We will form our agenda around a collective decision of the Conservative group.
“We are very fortunate to have been so well thought of by our electorate. One in two people in Guildford voted Conservative and we took 47% of the vote; the best that we have done for many years.
“We took five seats in North Guildford and if you examined the block vote compared to the mixed vote, the mixed vote being considerably higher, you will realise that the people, the residents, were thinking hard about who they voted for.
“It wasn’t, as Cllr Parker has helpfully pointed out, the national swing it was the intellect of our residents, realising who they should vote for that delivered the victory.
“It was sad to lose three seats, very sad, but in terms of the balance of voices in this council I would point out that the Greenbelt Group represent one and bit villages: we represent, or have representation in, every single ward, bar three, of this entire borough and I believe that is a mandate for us to move forward as a Conservative group, as a Conservative led council, very strongly.”