The official opposition at West Sussex County Council will put forward a ‘free speech’ motion at Friday’s full meeting of the authority - aimed at ensuring that the interests of residents are always at the heart of all decision-making.
Michael Glennon, county group leader of UKIP, wants the council to adopt the principle that all county members should ‘undertake to speak, write, and vote on behalf of their constituents ‘unfettered by whipping or party coercion.’
UKIP has a policy of never whipping votes, but his intervention follows an initiative by the County Times for more transparent and open councils in West Sussex.
Last week, Editor In Chief Gary Shipton launched a Free Speech Charter aimed at Tory-controlled Horsham District Council where the Conservative chairman-elect Christian Mitchell had been deselected in an allegedly whipped vote.
Mr Mitchell said he had paid the price for articulating the concerns of his local residents in fighting proposals for massive development in North Horsham.
Since then, at a special signing ceremony, all Lib Dem district and county councillors have signed the newspaper’s Charter - as well as their counterparts in UKIP and some Tory councillors.
The Charter states: “I undertake to speak, write and vote on behalf of my constituents without fear or favour of party discipline.
“If I am a member of a political party, I will respect its values and honour its pre-election manifesto pledges - but I will always put first the people I am elected to serve.”
Its wording is broadly mirrored in the UKIP motion.
Mr Shipton said: “So far, Lib Dem, UKIP, and a number of Conservative district and county councillors have signed.
“This is not a party-political initiative.
“It is designed to help re-engage the public with local decision-making; something that single-party cabinet systems have done much to undermine. Turnout at elections has been falling at an alarming rate.
“Although this began in Horsham, many county councillors have already embraced it, and if councillors from parishes or other districts wish to endorse it, they would be extremely welcome.”
Mr Shipton has written to all party leaders at the county council inviting their support of the Free Speech Charter - and the story of the Charter will be running in all our sister-newspapers across West Sussex from this week.
Mr Glennon said: “Government at all levels is increasingly despotic and is undermining democracy.
“Elected representatives are gleeful when they see their pile of votes building up nicely at the election count.
“Then comes the ecstasy moment when they are declared winner and a four or five-year term awaits them.
“But who is their boss now? Voters or party? Well, depends whom you ask.”
Mr Glennon, who is also a prospective parliamentary candidate, continued: “The obligation for elected representatives to put residents’ interests first should be sacrosanct.
“Central to our own UKIP philosophy has always been the idea that our councillors are not ‘whipped’ by party diktats – they are free to argue the case for their own communities regardless.”