Last week’s council meeting produced some interesting and revealing moments. There were three motions on the order paper and we shall return to the first two later but for now let us look at the one moved by my fellow Birkdale Councillor Simon Shaw.
We trailed this motion earlier in the week. It charted Labour’s abdication of responsibility over the budget in Sefton. They have voted against almost all the proposal for reductions and championed every aggrieved lobby group without moving any coherent alternative. The question that is inevitably raised by such conduct in the context of Sefton’s all party cabinet is; how can they stay in the administration if they are not seriously engaged with the budget?
Every other Labour Leader on Merseyside has faced up to the tough decisions involved in prioritizing services. Not Sefton Labour Party who chose simply to oppose and not to explain how they would balance the books –instead they led group after group to believe that if they had been in power they would have not gone ahead with a reduction. We know this to be untrue.
Sir Ron Watson, (Independent Conservative) rose to the occaision. Now Sir Ron has never liked the all party cabinet. He prefers there to be adversarial debate preferably between Labour and Conservatives. (This is a tad ironic as he is not in the Conservative group having been suspended -awaiting appeal- by the hapless leadership team of Porter -Parry. And the situation gets even more difficult in Sefton where the Tories have declined to be the third party will only 11 seats-they use to have 41 I think. Nevertheless Sir Ro's vision of proper politics is the first past the post two party model despite the fact that his career has come at a time when that model has unravelled.)
He rose from his back bench seat far distant from the Leader of the Council. (In fact he sits where I sat in 1984 when there were only 7 Liberals and he as Leader of the council and behaved as if we had no right to be there and often predicted that we would soon be swept away as the electors would soon come to their senses .) The place went silent. Sir Ron is the council's best speaker . He put his case clearly. He had no objection to Labour opposing the budget but that if they did so they had no moral or political right to stay in the cabinet. He may as well have quoted Cromwell exasperated at the Long Parliament; “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
He was followed Cllr Terry Jones (Official Conservative-I should say that there are more un-official Conservatives in Southport than Official ones) Cllr Jones is not one of the council's best speakers , nor do his contribution carry the same weight as Sir Ron's. In fact on this occasion it would have been better for his reputation if he'd kept his mouth shut. A councillor with better judgement would have done so in my estimation. He tried -above the chatter-to disagree with the elder statesman. He lost the argument- but because the Official Conservative voted with Labour (again) we lost.
Nevertheless I recall that on a previous occaision in the House of Commons when a speaker-Leo Amery - called upon Chamberlain to go in very similar terms to Cromwell's address to the Long Parliament, he too lost the vote- but if was not long before the Prime Minister had to quit.