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Gilbey crushes colleague, damages democracy

This is shocking, whichever way you look at it. Cllr Gilbey fires one of his own, supposedly for speaking out of turn (see news item below).

As Cllr Hirst points out, he is a councillor for both Canterbury City and Kent County, and he decides which hat to wear on the basis of whether the issue is a District level or County level matter. Highways is a County matter, and KCC have set their face against the Westgate trial, so Hirst voted accordingly.

There is also the small point, often overlooked by the current administration at Canterbury, that the overwhelming majority of residents (i.e. voters) are against the trial for the simple reason that it’s been a cock-up from the very beginning. Just as many predicted.

So, Hirst votes in line with his (split) duty, in line with public sentiment, but against Gilbey’s will. And gets fired.

This is in stark contrast to the very recent treatment of Cllr Neil Baker, who, in an act of breath-takingly reckless stupidity, drunkenly drove his car half way up a tree. He has been briefly suspended from the Executive (pay cut), will probably return to it in May, and in the meantime put onto another high profile committee. Gilbey showed his customary political sure-footedness by appointing Baker to the Joint Transport Board, which covers highways, road traffic and public transport.

What could possibly explain the very different treatment meted out to the two conservative councillors by their leader? Here’s a suggestion… after Baker’s arrest, Gilbey said:

“Neil has shown great support and done so much so it would be a shame to jump in too quickly and make a rash decision. Neil is someone I regard as a very valuable member of our group. We will do what is necessary, but it will be compassionate and take into account what Neil wants.”

Clearly, Baker is one of the favoured and trusted inner circle – “one of us” as they used to say in the Thatcher years.

On the other hand, Hirst has apparently made it known (unwisely, in my opinion) that he intended to stand against Gilbey in the CCC conservative’s leadership election in early May this year. Of course, he can only stand for leadership of the party if he’s a member of it, and Gilbey has just stripped him of his membership by removing the whip.

Ahhh… maybe that’s it. Maybe not.

Take your pick. Hirst was fired for correctly observing the distinction between his two councillor roles, and coincidentally reflecting the public’s wishes. Or he was fired to take him out of the leadership race.

Is it democracy? No, it’s just the way the Canterbury City Council Conservatives do things. And it stinks.


Conservative ousted after Westgate Towers row

Infighting at Canterbury city
council over the divisive Westgate Towers traffic trial has led to
one Conservative being ousted from the Tory group.

Cllr David Hirst, who has also been
a Kent county councillor for the past 12 years, has been stripped
of his whip by city council leader John Gilbey and left as an
independent member for Canterbury.

The squabble between them came to a
head when Cllr Hirst supported Kent County Council (KCC) in
scrapping the ban on cars through the Westgate Towers. Cllr Hirst was told via email on
February 13 of the decision to remove him from the local party. In a statement, Cllr Hirst said:

“I will continue to be a Conservative and during
this period continue to support and act as a Conservative within
the council. I was elected as a Conservative. I will remain a full
member of Kent County Council Conservative group and continue to
work normally. Being a member of both councils,
my obligation on each issue is clearly defined by, in whom the
power is vested. At Canterbury City Council the
leader has withdrawn the whip – the reason given being that I have
clearly supported Kent County Council policies on some relevant
issues.”

Transport bosses at county hall
announced last month that when the one-year-trial ends in March,
the road system will revert to the original and traffic will once
again pass through the historic gateway to the city.

The scheme has been almost
universally derided as causing delays and increasing car fumes. The KCC decision sparked
outrage among the city council, which had fought to keep the trial.
Cllr Gilbey’s fury was compounded by the fact some of his own
councillors had voted against the scheme. Cllr Hirst said:

“The decision to
stop the trial was made by the leader of Kent County Council.
Highways is a KCC responsibility. As a back bench member I felt that
this was correct for Canterbury residents, traders and importantly
professional offices. I supported the trial in the first
instance but became alarmed by many facets of it in operation and
support Mr Carter’s decision to revert to the original layout.”

Cllr Hirst is also hinting that he
may make his own leadership challenge in the future, adding:

“Some
time ago I indicated to members of the Canterbury City Conservative
group and the Conservative Association that I would stand, in the
May elections of a City Council leader, as a candidate.”

The Greenhill and Eddington ward member will also be a
Conservative candidate in the next Kent County Council
elections.

kentonline 18th Feb 2013

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  1. Cllr Baker has pointed out to me that he is not paid for being on the JTB – only the Chair (and possibly vice-Chair) get paid.