May 26th, 2019.

Steve Saunders writes:

I was both pleased and humbled by the support I was given by voters in Newhaven and Denton on May the 2nd. To have been chosen as an Independent candidate to represent the residents is a real honour and privilege. My running mate, Paula Woolven, only missed out by six votes, to join me on Lewes District, but her disappointment was eased after gaining a seat alongside me on Newhaven Town Council.

I fought my campaign on the grounds of my belief in the need to kick politics out of local government and remove the partisan nature of the decision-making processes, that have caused so much heartache and disgust for Newhaven. When the results came in and I became aware of the change in proportionality at Lewes District Council, I foresaw a real opportunity for change and the chance for a wide-ranging influence for the any new administration. All the lesser parties had sworn allegiance to a co-operative approach and a willingness to work together for the good of their own communities and the district as a whole.

There had been a frantic few days of talks between different groups, keen to form alliances, with offers suggested and promises made. The Conservatives had 19 of the 41 seats and needed to garner support from others to form a majority administration. The other four groups of Greens (9 seats), Lib Dems (8), Labour (3) and Independents (2), needed to form a ‘Rainbow Alliance’ to challenge the Conservatives.

The electorate had decided by default, that the Tories weren’t worthy of complete support, whilst the Lib Dems had lost their place as the natural opposition after losing to Independents and the Greens, who had surged forward and won their right to the position as the 2nd biggest Party. Labour had benefitted from the battle between Conservatives and disillusioned Independent ex-Tories in Peacehaven, to gain an historic three seats.

Proposals by the new main opposition party, the Greens, offered a number of concessions to enable all the new proposed groups to share power and have genuine representation. The Lib Dems were reluctant to trust the idea and cited concerns over commitments to deals and promises going forward. The Greens offered guarantees, but in the lead up to the first Council meeting on Monday, talks were suspended, and the consequence was a situation were three candidates for Leader were proposed – a Tory (Cllr Linnington), a Green (Cllr. Nicholson) and a Lib Dem (Cllr. MacCleary). The first round of voting eliminated MacCleary and the second saw the Lib Dems refusing to commit to the Greens candidate and abstain. This resulted in the Tories retaining the right to form the administration. In an ironic twist, as the committees were then voted on and a recess was quickly requested by Cllr Nicholson, the Lib Dems were finally encouraged to see the error of their ways and the opposition parties withdrew candidates, to ensure a straight competition between the Tories and the alliance of other Parties. This resulted in nearly all the spaces being filled by Greens, Lib Dems, Labour and Independents.

The frustration at the situation that I and my Independent colleague felt, was not lost on the Greens and Labour members. An opportunity to make decisions, pass policies and develop strategies to benefit our voters, was lost. The Lib Dems have justified their decision as an opportunity to continue discussions and form a more solid foundation, with which to challenge the Tories at a future meeting, via a vote of no confidence in the new leader and her administration. However, the Council officers are now unable to move confidently forward, knowing their current bosses may be thrown out in a few weeks, or months. Decisions could be rushed through in this intervening period, whilst the Lib Dems deliberate and try to manoeuvre themselves into a position of leadership. In their own press statements since the meeting on Monday, they’ve suggested they are the more experienced and better suited to leadership. Their election pledges talked of removing the Tories from power, but their actions on Monday have so far ensured they stay in control. They appear to be more concerned about the County elections in two years time and how any coalition and working as a junior partner to the more successful Greens, will look.

All 41 Councillors have been voted for by the public, to serve their communities on the District and Parish Councils now, not to help their colleagues win in 2021. Many of those successful new Councillors, were elected in big way, because of the previous hard work of those that have stood down, like Sarah Osborne and Vic Ient, others because of the political emblem under which they stood. The opportunity we’ve been offered because of the way votes were cast, is to work collaboratively and ensure our residents are listened to - not the party we may represent.

I urge the Lib Dems to enter any further negotiations that may go on, with an open mind and be led by the idea of doing the right thing for their residents, not for the party. Let’s put aside mistrust and political differences and work together for all those that took the time and were good enough to put a mark in a box for us.

Cllr Steve Saunders
Newhaven North Ward Town and District Council
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