It is a truism that ‘a week is a long time is politics’ and especially so for Francis Maude MP.
In recent weeks Mr Maude has treated us to a trilogy of articles on the subject of constitutional government.
Written in a ‘Janet and John’ style (as if we didn’t know that Cabinet Ministers are chosen from the party ranks of MPs) Mr Maude shared with us his views not just on the workings of national government but especially local government.
Yet his views seemed to have been very inconsistent. Why? In week one (8.5.14, p45) he wrote about the procedures at Horsham District Council (HDC) the week after Cllr Claire Vickers’ mass housing plan was pushed through on the 30 April. This was when Cllr Andrew Baldwin (a Cabinet member) abstained in the vote, which clearly suggests that the vote was whipped since Cllr Baldwin has said on the record that he doesn’t support housing in North Horsham.
In the context of the housing controversy under the clearly failing leadership of Cllr Ray Dawe and deputy leader Cllr Helena Croft in this first article Mr Maude wrote: ‘I don’t think there’s anything at all improper in our system in a whipped vote.’
The following week (15.5.14) there was a barrage of letters from the public reminding him (or perhaps informing him if he failed to notice or care) that Cllr Christian Mitchell was sacked as chairman of the council on the back of a whipped vote after Ray Dawe wrote to him in September 2013 telling him he would no longer support him as chairman (6.3.14).
But then last week (22.5.14, p51) Mr Maude appears on the face of it to agree with his constituents’ expressed view that party politics and Westminster style whipping with threats of punishment has no place in local government.
Mr Maude tells us that he now supports an elected mayor for Horsham to replace the flawed Cabinet system. He concluded by writing: ‘The mayor becomes very much identified with the locality, and if carrying a party label at all tends to carry it quiet lightly. It can create a very different dynamic, and in my view often a healthy one.’
So in week one (8.5.14) Mr Maude supports Cllr Dawe and Croft’s whipping of votes in local government which by its very nature is being extremely party politically partisan.
But in the face of public criticism in week two he does a U-turn and says that: ‘carrying a party label… quiet lightly… can create a different dynamic… often a healthy one.’ Does this now mean that he doesn’t support Cllr Dawe and Croft’s techniques at HDC?
So we the electorate are none the wiser, does Mr Maude support the much commented on behaviour of HDC or not?