Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where did it all go wrong for the Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats had a pounding on the Town Council losing this Council to the Conservatives. But where did it all go wrong?

Starting with the elections in 2007. 
The Liberal Democrats won 13 out of 18 seats. But not by much. In Eynesbury they took 5 of the 6 seats. In Priory Park ward their smallest majority was 65. In Eaton Socon the smallest majority was 35. So the Liberal Democrats got in by the skin of their teeth.

First Forward Plan.
A good Forward Plan with much in it. Carry this out and the Liberal Democrats would have a programme for change. Much of the plan was not costed. This meant whilst the Liberal Democrats had good ideas they hadn't planned the money to spend on these projects. This downfall was to haunt them for the next 3 years.

The 2008/09 Budget.
This was a bad budget. Those in charge at the time, Cllr Giles and Thorpe, underfunded the budget which meant a large deficit during the year. The Liberal Democrats baulked at the 24% increase needed and went for a lower amount of 9.2% increase instead.

Taking Grounds Maintenance in-house
This had been dealt with by contract. Taking this in-house means the Council becomes the employer. This had significant costs which weren't foreseen. These amounted to £95,000. This dug into the Council finances. It was the mishandling of this project which caused the Liberal Democrats untold pain.

The new cemetery, to be in Bedfordshire, was the main project for the year and it failed when the farmer upped the price after the Town Council obtained planning permission. This led to the downfall of Philip Devonald who should have gone when the problems over the finances arose.

The "Shambles".
The Liberal Democrats got themselves into a mess over the missing loan. But this was minor and a cover for something much deeper. When the Liberal Democrats got a majority they set about changing the constitution. They set up a Policy and Resources committee whose job was to oversee the finances of the Council. In charge was Liberal democrat Leader (Derek Giles) and Deputy Leader (Gordon Thorpe). What went wrong wasn't the "missing" loan. It is the fact that knowing something was wrong the Liberal Democrat leadership kept this from Council.

The problem was that no councillor resigned because of this "Shambles". They didn't see it as their problem. Indeed Cllr Thorpe was promoted to being Town Mayor!

The 2009/10 Budget.
This budget tore the heart out of the Forward Plan. It also took the decision not to replace the Town Clerk for 6 months. This was another very big mistake. By not getting the resources of a properly qualified Town Clerk the Liberal Democrats messed up the Town Council for years. This came back to bite them with:

Loss and regaining of Quality Town Status.
Not appointing a proper qualified Town Clerk means the Town Council couldn't re-apply for Quality Status which they lost in January 2010. This is where the Liberal Democrats went wrong. They pushed for the regaining of Quality Status over much else. This isn't what the Liberal Democrats should have done.

The Car Park Pantomime.
I still don't see the reason why there was any need for any real protest. And a protest march to boot. The failure of this didn't do the Liberal Democrats much good. The District Council is in financial crisis and needs the money. Why not focus on that rather than messing about over 20 pence an hour (free evenings and on Sundays). Instead of pointing at the inability of the St Neots Conservative Councillors to change things they masked these ineffective efforts by having an alternative pantomime.

The Town Mayor's regalia.
A small item in what went wrong, yet it was to resonate around the Town. The excuse that Civic Pride was needed and this was embodied in the Town Mayor really missed the point. Town Mayor - who cares? Civic Pride - again who actually cares.

So what else did the Liberal Democrats do wrong?
Being only in power by a few votes, the Liberal Democrats needed to make progress. Being in power is one thing. Keeping in power is another. The tendency is to "blame the national situation" rather than analyse what went wrong and what went right.

Where the Liberal Democrats went wrong in Government was not understanding the Town Councils finances. This led to a casino budget which led to a cuts budget which shredded their Forward Plan. The inability to control the previous Town Clerk is also evident in the Cemetery and the debacle over the finances. By not getting in a properly qualified Town Clerk led to the loss of Quality Status but also, in my view, held the Liberal Democrats back from getting the Town Council back on track.

Yet however you look at all that went wrong the main problem was communication. Newspapers, if delivered, can be read. The adverts in the News and Crier were good. But I don't get the News and Crier! The only way to get your message out to your electorate is to put out leaflets on, at least, a regular quarterly basis.

The age old reason for not getting your message out are too many to quote now. Yet many others are able to achieve this even in winter.

There are 4 District wards in St Neots. Eaton Socon and Eynesbury should be your targets. A leaflet every quarter with door knocking once a month should make life interesting for the Conservatives. Both Eynesbury and Eaton Socon are up for election in 2012. Time to get leafleting and knocking now!

If the Liberal Democrats want to win they need to out campaign the Conservatives. If they don't then their voices in St Neots will be drowned out.

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