COMMENT: Tories at war: The great North South divide in the Horsham district

Our comment
Our comment

Forget the much vaunted North South divide across Britain.

The real geographic fault lines are to be found in the Horsham district.

Tories on the district council have been engaged in a civil war for months now between some representatives in the North of the district - although not all - and those who stand for the southern wards in the South Downs.

At the heart of this battle has been the Conservative’s plans to dump thousands of homes, a business park, and a superstore on green fields to the North of Horsham.

It’s a plan that the leadership has seemed determined to railroad through whatever the cost.

Town member Christian Mitchell has led the charge to protect the town and has campaigned vigorously on behalf of his residents.

In February it cost him his chairman-elect role.

This week, he says it also resulted in him being stripped of the chairmanship of the licensing committee - a position he has fulfilled with great diligence and success since he was first election in 2007.

Mr Mitchell is not alone in his defence of Horsham.

Colleagues such as Peter Burgess, Simon Torn, Liz Kitchen, Josh Murphy, and John Bailey have voted and spoken with him.

To confirm their commitment to the people they are elected to serve they have also signed the County Times’ Free Speech Charter - along with Lib Dems from Horsham town and UKIP.

The Conservative leader of West Sussex County Council Louise Goldsmith has also put her signature to this commitment to put the interests of the people first.

That’s what local democracy should be about.

Sadly the majority of Tories at HDC have shunned the symbolic document in the same way they have bulldozed their plans through - with a Hobson’s Choice consultation and a whipped vote last July to set the process in motion.

Quite what an independent planning inspector will make of their behaviour when he comes to consider this planning blueprint in November is anybody’s guess - but the people of North Horsham will be represented by a barrister who will no doubt explain this whole sorry state of affairs.

So what now for the ruling Conservative group that seems to have chosen civil war and self-destruction over public service?

Had the Tory group left Mr Mitchell as chairman of licensing they would have stood a chance of calming the mood within their ranks.

But this week’s decision will merely have poured petrol by the gallon on the flames.

What a sorry state of affairs for the Conservatives - one year before the elections.

What a great opportunity for Independents and opposition parties.

What a great embarrassment for MP Francis Maude who has remained largely silent throughout it all.

Good leadership would have sought to bring all sides together - instead, we continue to see a political organisation at council level enmeshed in hatred of itself and contempt of its core vote which opposes greenfield development.

Meanwhile, Mr Mitchell rises above it all.

Some years ago, we named him the People’s Champion. Never was that description more apt than it is today.

Tories punish Horsham town champion Christian Mitchell again - this time by removing licensing role - click here

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