Given the headlines in this week’s paper, it would seem odd if, as leader of Horsham District Council, I didn’t devote this week’s column to the Roger Arthur resignation story.
Roger has been a close friend nearly 40 years, so I know his long held political convictions well. His sudden resignation this week came as a complete bolt from the blue with no prior discussion. He was one of the architects of the manifesto that led Horsham District Conservatives to their biggest ever electoral win in the elections in 2011 and since that time he has been a leading player in translating those election promises into reality.
The first question then is to ask why has he done it. He has absolutely no dispute with the actions and policies of the district council - indeed he has very strongly supported them. Likewise, he has until this week been highly supportive of the county council and the re-election of all the Conservative candidates in the forthcoming county council elections on May 2. Apparently he has resigned because he is disillusioned with the Prime Minister and his leadership at Westminster.
I believe that unless elected members’ personal circumstances greatly change, say for illness, work or family reasons, when putting themselves up to the voters they undertake to do two things: 1) to do the job for the whole four year period and 2) to do their best to carry out the promises made to the voters in their manifesto.
If he was a Tory MP at Westminster and was resigning because he was disgruntled with what is happening there I could maybe understand, but we are instead talking about HDC where voters chose him on the basis of the manifesto in which there was an undertaking to fully support the Conservative Party at Horsham. There was absolutely no mention of support for UKIP or its ideas. Indeed, in 2011 Roger actively campaigned on the doorstep against UKIP, asking what their policy of UK independence from Europe had to do with Horsham District Council.
Roger seems to have forgotten that the Conservative Party did not win the last general election and is only in government as part of a coalition, meaning that they do not have complete independence of action. As someone who put himself up for election he is in a very different position from the man in the street who may be disillusioned with the Government and saying that he might vote UKIP at the next general election. Roger has been a committed and active Conservative and a certain disenchantment does not mean that elected members of the Conservative Party suddenly rush into the arms of UKIP.
UKIP’s very name makes it clear that it is a party whose purpose is primarily based upon the idea of getting the UK out of the EU. The only way that there will be a referendum on Europe is the one promised if there is a future Conservative government. UKIP is a strongly right wing party and can only hope to win seats and gain influence by taking a good part of the traditional Conservative vote. This would mean, however, that at an election it would simply split the right of centre vote so neither the Tory nor UKIP candidate wins and hasten the return of a Labour government. Thus it will make the chance of holding a referendum and re-negotiating our relationship with Europe very unlikely. This then would achieve the very opposite of the values Roger has long supported.
Many Tory MPs and MEPs openly state that that they are keen to renegotiate or maybe even sever our relationship with Europe and so the very best way of getting any change in Britain’s relationship with Europe, the very thing UKIP wants, is to push the agenda within the Tory party. It is the dubious and illogical belief that UKIP can ever be in a position to have any real political influence at government level that has driven Roger’s actions. It has nothing to do with the reasons for which he was elected as a Horsham district councillor.
Roger says he resigned so that he can criticise the Government. Clearly as an elected Conservative, it makes sense to demonstrate a reasonable degree of party unity but there is in fact nothing preventing any district councillor criticising the Government. Indeed, this newspaper has recently printed articles from a local Conservative member doing just that. If Roger wanted (as he puts it) ‘to speak freely’ then he surely could have simply chosen to become an independent member of the council, but instead he has decided to join another political party - one working to unseat many of those Conservatives he previously valued as colleagues. I am really sorry and saddened that he has chosen this path and indeed I am utterly perplexed by his decision.